We live in a complex society. It seems like almost everyone has a specialty of some kind because there is just too much to know to be effective as a generalist. This is true of lawyers, too. The first question people ask when they meet a lawyer is, “What kind of law do you practice?” and my general answer is “Trusts and estates.” What does this mean?
My practice breaks down into four areas: estate planning (the drafting and administration one does before it’s needed), probate (the court-supervised administration of wills), trust administration (the non-court-supervised administration of trusts) and estate litigation (when parties disagree about the terms of an estate document, the choice of fiduciary or the fiduciary’s proposed distribution.) Other areas that are similar but that I refer to other more specialized attorneys are conservatorships, elder law and disability planning.
Because much of what I do impacts families, and because I often represent multiple generations with estate planning, often clients call what I do “family law.” However, family law specifically refers to divorce, support and custody issues. There is some overlap between a trusts and estates practice and a family law practice. For instance, the characterization of property as community property or as separate property is important in both trusts and estate and in family law because assets are distributed at two times: when you divorce and when you die. So both trusts and estates attorneys and family law attorneys can prepare pre-nuptial and post-nuptial agreements. Also guardianships are handled by the probate court, but also involve paternity, support and custody issues. So, a trusts and estates attorney or a family law attorney can help you with these issues.
I enjoy helping individuals and families prepare for their senior years by writing trusts, wills, advance health care directives and powers of attorney. I like guiding loved ones through the intricacies of marshaling, valuing and distributing assets in both probate and trust administration. I relish a good fight when my clients need protection. And all of this falls under a trusts and estates practice!
-Originally published by Susan on November 11, 2014.