PROBATE: THE GOOD, THE BAD …

By Tim Barkley. June 2021. Probate. The word has achieved a Dickensian notoriety conjuring up greedy lawyers, helpless widows and children, and unscrupulous creditors. The avoidance of probate is now a cottage industry, carried on in the back offices of lawyers and financial planners. But the problems with probate are the problems with wealth transmission, not with the process itself. Yes, probate can be trying, expensive and time-consuming. But it can also be seamless, orderly and efficient. The difference lies in the people involved and the assets administered, not the process itself. This writer's clients have three objections to probate, if they have any at all. First, all of your affairs become public record. The contents of your...

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(DON’T) DO IT YOURSELF!

By Timothy Barkley. May 2021 You're standing on a playing field, a ball in your hand, facing a crowd of burly guys running helter-skelter around the field. Some of them seem to be running at you. You weave and dodge. People are yelling and gesturing, and you heft the ball, then throw it where you think it ought to go. Big guys react instantly, violently, and some are thrown to the ground while others run. Spectators cheer, some jeer, and you shake your head, wondering what you just did. You wake up with a jump, frustrated that you keep having that stress dream from high school. You wish you knew what game you were playing, so you could try to learn and remember the rules. You remember that this is Saturday, and that you were going to do...

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TOO LITTLE, TOO LATE

By Tim Barkley. April 2021. The best-laid schemes of mice and men … The phone rings. “This is Tim Barkley.” “My dad just died and we found his will you drew up. It doesn’t look like he ever signed it. It says ‘DRAFT’ at the top. Can you check and see if he signed it?” “Well, I’m looking in his file, and we don’t have a signature page, but it looks like he came in to see us in 1998, so that was before we scanned signature pages.” “You mean you don’t have the original in your safe?” “No. Even if he did sign it, we never keep originals. Let me tell you sometime about the two local lawyers who died and all their files were sent to the dump. For years, people would come into my office asking if I knew where their mother’s will could be. I had...

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UNHAPPY CAMPERS

By Tim Barkley. March 2021. Probate is the new family law. Old family dynamics suddenly surface or intensify after the parents are deceased. When Mom or Dad are gone and won’t be grieved or angered by the display of animosity or angst, the simmering sepsis of sibling rivalry, abandonment or rejection, outright abuse or veiled manipulation often bursts the bounds and spills out for all to see. Is the brother who was always “there” for Mom and never left the family home really a devoted son, or just a lazy gold-digger? “My good-for-nothing stay-at-home brother stole Mom’s money” and “Mom wanted me to have the insurance money for taking care of her for the last 10 years, and my money-grubbing brother who was never around is trying to take it...

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ELUSIVE INCOMPETENCE – A CAUTIONARY TALE

By Tim Barkley. February 2021. “My dad is in assisted living. We need to pay his bills, but his power of attorney says it only works if he’s incompetent. I can’t get anybody to say he’s incompetent. They say the doctor will check up on him and make an evaluation, but they’ve been saying that for weeks. What can I do?” Hopefully, the doctor will show up soon. Have you tried to get his usual doctor to go and see him? “He went to one of those doc-in-the-box places after his old doctor retired about 10 years ago and moved to North Carolina. Nobody really knows him. And anyway, during COVID, nobody is getting in.” That’s a tough situation. The only real alternative is to file for guardianship and get a court to order a mental evaluation....

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STRESS TEST 2021

By Tim Barkley. January 2021. 2020 hindsight. That’s when we look back and try to see more clearly than we could in the moment. Stress test. That’s when we test ourselves to see if we’re fit and healthy, so we can fix what’s wrong before it’s too late. 2020 was our stress test – as individuals, as a Town, a society and a nation, even as a world community. We behaved mostly as people behave anytime they’re under stress – some better than usual, even heroic; some worse, even nefarious; most of us just plodding along and trying to get along, stay safe and sane, and get through somehow. Many folks realized their mortality more acutely than usual, and reviewed and updated their financial and estate plans. It’s harder to just leave the 30-year...

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THE EDUCATED CLIENT

By Tim Barkley. December 2020. The lawyer nodded. “I think I understand your situation,” he said. “Here's what I advise …” Some time later, the client still looked uncertain. “Could you go over that again? I feel silly not getting it the first time through, but I really don't understand.” “I'm sorry,” replied the lawyer.  “Let me try this … Here's another way to look at it.”  With a few quick pen strokes he sketched a flowchart on a legal pad. “It goes like this …” “Oh!” exclaimed the client. “Now I get it.  I've been reading about this on the Internet and going to seminars, and never got it.  Now I understand!” The light came on in the client's eyes, that most satisfying sight to any planning professional seeking the reward of a client's...

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THANK YOU, MOUNT AIRY!

By Tim Barkley. November 2020. In July of 1995, a young lawyer looking for office space found a small office for rent in what is now the Long & Foster building on Ridgeville Boulevard, sharing a conference room with a guy named Mike Zimmer in what had been the offices of the late Chuck Carlton. The building housed the files of Mr. Carlton and the late Elizabeth Tripp. Moving from the first-floor office to a second-floor suite, thence to a suite over the Subway, the no-longer-young lawyer has found himself downtown with a “Park Avenue address,” in a hundred-year-old building that was once known as Mr. Rilddlemoser’s Hall or the Potomac Edison Building. The building has housed a movie theatre and, twice, an antique store, and is now...

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LET ME GO!

By Tim Barkley.  October 2020. “Just let me go. I don’t ever want to be on life support!” “If I’m ever on life support, just pull the plug. Right away!” “I wouldn’t want to be on life support. If I have to be, not more than 24 hours!” This writer spends a good bit of time talking to folks about end-of-life issues, including life support. The question comes up: If you were in a situation where keeping you alive required medical interventions and the use of life support, how long would you want to be in that situation? Years ago, the fear was that “they” would let you go too soon. Everyone worried about the hospital or nursing home wanting to empty the bed to bring in a new patient. Now, the fear is that “they” will keep you alive too long,...

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MYTHS AND MISUNDERSTANDINGS

By Tim Barkley.  September 2020. “If I don’t have a will, the State will get everything when I die!” “I don’t need a will, because everything is going to my spouse!” “If I have a will, my estate doesn’t go through probate!” “I need a living trust, so I can avoid probate! That lady on TV said so!” The author addresses these and similar misunderstandings on a daily basis.  Some are alarmist, some induce heedless complacency; all can lead to bad results. If you don’t have a will, your assets are not given to the State.  Your assets pass to the people that the State assumes – rightly or wrongly – you would want to have them.  Sometimes the assumptions are odd.  Assets owned by you in your sole name are divided between your children and your...

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YOU HAVE THE POWER

You Have the Power. August 2020. By Timothy S. Barkley, Sr. The lady in the parking lot was excited: “Thank you! You don’t know how much you’ve helped us.” I was taken aback, but rose to the occasion: “Certainly!” I must have looked puzzled, because she laughed and said “I’m Sally Smith. You wrote up powers of attorney for my son when he left for college. We’d never thought about it until we read your article, but it seemed like a good idea, and we called. “He left for college a few days later, driving himself, and we got a heart-stopping phone call. He had been in an accident on the way down to school and was in the hospital. But he had the papers in the glove box of his car, and so they called us. “They said that without the power of...

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FUMBLING THE BUSINESS

By Tim Barkley. July 2020. “I have a buyer for my husband’s work van, and he can’t sign because he has dementia. We need the money. What can I do?” “We have a buyer for my mom’s business, but she just had a stroke and can’t sign papers. What do we need to do?” The first thing is to look for a power of attorney. If the business owner signed one, that can “save the day.” But, if the business is incorporated or an LLC, not just any garden-variety online freebie power of attorney will do. The power of attorney needs to specifically give powers over your business interests and business assets, not just over investments and personal assets. Business owners are often so busy running the business that they don’t have time to attend to the...

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