Associate, Sandberg Phoenix & von Gontard P.C.
Chair, BAMSL Probate & Trust Law Section
Estate Planning Attorneys:
We are being called to help in this time of crisis. Local health care professionals working in hospitals and otherwise on the front lines against coronavirus have been reaching out to BAMSL asking for assistance with their estate planning. BAMSL President Sara Neill created a special task force to respond to this plea, and I write as one of the chairs of that task force.
We are creating a community of estate planning attorneys each of whom is willing to create one or more estate plans, pro bono, for health care workers in the St. Louis area.
The task force will serve as a clearinghouse, matching individuals who seek this service with attorneys who are willing to provide it. Once the referral is made, the attorney-client relationship is no different than any other attorney-client relationship. Each attorney will need to run his or her own conflict check on the potential client(s). Each attorney will be responsible for insuring that his or her malpractice coverage is in effect and sufficient. Each attorney will consult with the client(s), by phone, Zoom or other manner, and prepare the estate plan as he or she sees fit. You would be free to provide as sophisticated a plan as you wish, but you must be willing to prepare at least a Will, Durable Powers of Attorney, and Health Care Declaration/Living Will for the individual and his or her spouse. You should be willing to provide this in an expedited manner, meaning within THREE DAYS. You will NOT be able to charge for these legal services. We are all aware of the logistical difficulties in arranging for document signings, including securing witnesses and notaries. There is no good solution to these problems, including with what we are proposing. You can host the signing if you want. Otherwise, the client will need to make arrangements (and hopefully the hospital is willing to assist in that regard). Your obligation, at a minimum, is to provide PDFs of execution copies of documents, along with some form of signing instructions.
Each attorney will have all of the same ethical obligations to this client as to any other. After the initial plan has been created, the clients will have all the usual rights to their file and will have the usual freedom to stay with you or move elsewhere. By the same token, you will have no obligation to perform future work on this plan pro bono.
Merely volunteering in response to this letter does not obligate you to accept any or all of the potential clients with whom you are matched. You will not have to accept more clients than you wish. You will merely have stated your willingness to be contacted and presented with potential new clients. But we will assume that any positive response is a good-faith indicator that you are willing to provide these services to at least one individual or couple, as the case may be.
The task force recognizes that this proposal raises dozens of questions and may need substantial modifications. We do not have all the answers. We are just trying to do something, and are in the early phases of whatever that something will be.
Please give this serious consideration. Our neighbors and friends in the health care industry are putting themselves at great personal risk in the fight against coronavirus. We, as estate planners, are uniquely positioned to help them and to give them one less thing to worry about.
If you are willing to volunteer, please email firstname.lastname@example.org saying so. If enough of you volunteer, we can inform local hospital administrators that we have a pool of attorneys standing by willing to assist, and let them get the word out among those employees on the front lines. We'll see what happens then.
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