When it comes to the complex and detailed work of estate administration, a little advance planning goes a long way in bringing not just efficiency and cost-effectiveness but reliability to the process – for lawyers and their clients. Panelists from the OBA program Your First Estate Administration share their top tips for streamlining these important – highly practical and personal – matters.
Use commonalities to create a comprehensive checklist
“Use a checklist! While estate administration involves complex matters requiring a review of each matter on its specific facts, there are commonalities that allow lawyers to create checklists to ensure that each and every potential requirement of the administration – applicable or not – has been considered. Checklists are useful at every stage: from the initial client meeting through the preparation and execution of the will and through the administration of the estate. Send your checklist (or a modified version of it) to the client before your first meeting to get them started on the information-gathering process.” - Kellie Seaman, senior claims counsel, LAWPRO
Track moving parts with a spreadsheet
“I recommend creating estate administration-specific checklists, spreadsheets, informative memos for clients, and other time-saving precedents that will set you off on the right track when you embark on a new estate administration file. For instance, build an estate assets and debts spreadsheet template in which you can easily plug in numbers and other details about the estate. This will help you keep track of all the moving parts in the estate administration and even act as a to-do list. It will also help your client put together an informal accounting of the estate in no time if that becomes necessary.” - Zara Wong, lawyer, Casey & Moss LLP
Compile Estate Information Return details early
“I always prepare a draft Estate Information Return when I prepare the application for a Certificate of Appointment. Not only is the estate asset information fresh in my mind, but the detailed asset categories in the return serve as a great checklist to ensure we haven’t accidentally overlooked any assets when preparing the application (clients often forget to mention the deceased’s car until asked). The draft return may sit in my file for six months while we wait for the Certificate to be issued, but as soon as it is, I can just add the court file number and date, and it’s ready for the Estate Trustee to sign and submit.” - Raquel Kaplan Goldberg, lawyer, Kronis, Rotsztain, Margles, Cappel LLP
“I suggest obtaining all details required for the Estate Information Return at the time that you are preparing the probate application materials. The client will be dealing with the banks and other third parties at such time in order to obtain asset values for the probate application anyway, so you might as well have them collect all of the other asset details while they are doing so. That way, once the Certificate of Appointment has been issued, it will be fairly easy for you to prepare the Estate Information Return – without the additional back-and-forth with the client or having to ask the client to re-contact the various banks and third parties for the missing details. This saves times and reduces fees. Happy probating!” - Andrea Tratnik, lawyer, Beard Winter LLP
If you’re looking for more advice from trusts and estates law experts, register for Your First Estate Administration, taking place on June 16, here.