Help me out. Our estate lawyer said he is semi-retired. He left the law firm where we had set up trusts and written wills. He is now working as consultant in a smaller firm. I have a feeling he is not or does not want to get involved with day to day law stuff. He defers to a lawyer in the new firm when we have a question. We would follow him to his new firm if he would continue to oversee our account. That not being the case, I wonder if we should stay in the old firm. They will assign someone to us, I guess. What would you do?
Stay with him as long as you are comfortable, but have a conversation about what his plans are for retirement. And ask him when the time comes if he can help you transition to someone else. Tell him you love how he does his job and would appreciate his help in landing with someone he trusts. Who would he send his children to?
It could be that the attorney he is deferring to now is such a person.
I cannot answer your question other than to state that it might be good to have a second attorney review your existing documents in an effort to see if they still satisfy your intentions and whether or not updates need to be made due to change in law or change in family circumstances.
And- make sure you have copies of all of your docs. If he retires, you may have trouble getting them.
Back in the day, many lawyers were Jack of all trades type. Now it is much more common to become a specialist and practice in an estates and trust firm or group. Many solo lawyers still say they do estate planning but certainly if you have a taxable estate or a blended family I would certainly check into switching to a specialist. The state bar website may have a list if they certify specialists. You can also check Martindale Hubbell.
In our state lawyers are required to have a succession plan and contact you before purging files, but I think it’s solid advice to be sure you have copies of all of your documents, know where the originals are securely located, and plan to update your plan over time. The tax laws change fairly significantly and other changes affect planning choices.
Doesn’t the law firm where we filed have a copy of everything?
My suggestion would be to confirm with them that they do - and to ask about their succession plan at the same time. And request a certified copy of all documents for your files at the same time.
Law firms typically give the choice of keeping or sending your originals. They would normally give a receipt if kept in the firm vault so you may find that in your papers. Then they should have provided copies to you, if not originals. The trend is paperless so things are changing and firms are actively trying to reduce storage costs. I would reach out to the old firm and inquire. If you leave their firm you own your file in our state, except attorney notes.
Smaller firms close down - I have a friend who had a lot of trouble finding his dad’s will because the attorney had passed away.
A bit off topic, but did the lawyer die intestate ?
My business lawyer is retiring in a year; he is passing me on to a younger colleague in the same firm. I am the PR for my BiL’s sister’s estate; our current lawyer is retiring Friday and we are moving to his recommended replacement. Both small firm lawyers. He delivered our files there today. Our estate lawyer is part of a large firm and I expect we will be passed to another in less than 10 years when she retires. I think that’s standard protocol.
We had the same issue with my FIL’s will and trust.
My FIL had so many updates and we ended up contacting the local Bar Assn to find someone who knew where the paperwork ended up.
Our current attorney told us to keep a copy of our will in a safe deposit box. We also have a home copy with the Safe Deposit box key location in the home copy.
I think you should ask the attorney how much he plans to be involved in the updates and transitions in your will/trust. If he says “he’s done”, then you know to move on to the partner.
Our attorney will probably be retiring in the next 5-10 years. His partner introduced herself as he had previously asked us if it would be okay for her to observe and familiarize herself with the firm’s clients and wills. We were okay with that (two for the price of one). They worked together well in presenting our finalized will.
Given that we signed all of the paperwork during the Pandemic, the presentation was done via cameras and signatures witnessed in separate rooms and was presented in a well-organized manner.
In our case, there was no delivery of files as far as I know. That makes me think we are still with the old firm. The attorney defers us to the new guys but didn’t say he has all our documents or anything like that. He left the transition rather vague, no official hand over to speak of.
General related question: How often do you update your wills or trusts (excluding a major life change event)?
Wouldn’t it be “as needed”?
That could include major life change events for you and the heirs. It could also include changes in assets (particularly those difficult to value or divide) that could make the previous distribution of assets unworkable or not as originally intended.
Contact the old firm and tell them that you are frustrated with the transition of your file. Ask them what they have. Those are your files. You need to know what is on record. Good Luck!!!
I’m curious because our wills are about 15-20 years old. No major life changes, other than becoming empty nesters, and a bit more savings. Named executor still alive & willing. No need for named guardian, but I assume that will just be ignored.
We may move states in retirement, but nothing definite yet. Some sites, and many lawyers seem to encourage updating more often, saying “laws change”, but there’s also a vested interest by lawyers. So I’m curious if there are no major life changes if they should be reviewed every 5 years? 10 years?
I think you need to review every 5-7 years or when there are life changes or tax changes. If it all meets your wishes, there may be no need to re-do. One document that should be redone is a durable power of attorney. Some banks can be difficult about accepting an old one.
I am an estate planning and elder law attorney in my late 50’s, and am looking to phase out over the next 5 years. Here’s a few thoughts for you:
Make sure you meet with and are comfortable with the attorney who you are being passed off to. In my situation I have an attorney who has been with me for 7 years, and all my clients have gotten to know her, so I’m hoping clients are comfortable working with her when I’m no longer practicing. That being said I’m sure there will be clients for who she isn’t a good fit, so there will always be some client melt in such a case.
Be sure to have originals of all your planning documents, perhaps excepting the will, which many attorneys keep in their office safes (we do this). Make sure your kids or other successor executors/trustees know where your original documents are! And also find out if the law firm retains originals or copies. Our practice is to keep duplicate originals, and we scan everything so we can provide copies to their clients or authorized family members/advisors on a moment’s notice via a secure portal.
Meet with your attorney at least every 3-5 years to keep things updated. There have been many significant changes in the laws the past few years, and if your estate plan is more than 5 years old, there may be some big holes.