What happens if you can’t get in touch with your estate planning attorney?
You’ve taken the initiative, contacted an estate planning attorney, and have written a will, or set up a living trust and named a successor trustee. You’ve taken important steps to plan for your health care in the future by making your wishes known for end-of-life care in a healthcare directive. You have a family copy, but not the original documents. But, when you try to contact your attorney to revise your will, make changes to your living trust or healthcare directive, there’s no response! What recourse do you have?
Lawyers have a legal as well as an ethical responsibility to safeguard the documents of their clients when they decide to close their office or retire. This holds true in cases where a lawyer has died while still in practice. Under the American Bar Association Code of Professional Responsibility, every attorney has a professional responsibility to provide for a transition when he or she retires, dies, becomes disabled, or is even disbarred. However, this is often not the case.
How could this happen?
In many cases your attorney holds a set of the original documents. While there are valid reasons for letting your estate planning attorney keep the original copy of all your estate planning documents, such as preventing family members from trying to alter or destroy the documents or to simply prevent them from getting lost, the attorney and/or office staff should mail the originals to clients in cases of the attorney’s retirement, disability, death, or other changes in his or her professional status.
However, the reality is that many attorneys, especially those in solo practices or small firms, have not made provisions when it comes to handling their practices in the event that they become disabled or die.
If you can’t get in touch with your estate planning attorney, that are steps that you can take to try and locate, and then take possession of your original estate planning documents.
Your next steps
Contact the California State Bar Association or the state bar association where the original documents were drafted to find out if the organization still has contact information for your attorney. You can also contact other local attorneys who may have information concerning yours.
Another option is to check with the Superior Court in the county in which your attorney had his or her office. Your wills could have been lodged there. Or, perhaps your attorney transferred your documents to a fellow attorney, providing that information to the state bar association.
However, another option is to hire a new estate planning attorney to revise your current estate plan. A new attorney can advise you concerning all your estate planning options. The Law Offices of David W. Foley, California Living Trusts, can provide you with expert legal advice when it comes to estate planning. With over 20 years of experience in estate planning law, our experienced attorneys can advise you about all your estate planning options.
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