THE LAST WORD

By Tim Barkley. November 2021. It was a bright and airy day a quarter-century ago when a mild-mannered young reporter for the Mt. Airy News purchased the paper from her employer. A reporter was transmogrified into an editor, a newspaper’s name was changed, and the Messenger was born. On the other side of town, in a dimly-lit rented flat, an intrepid young attorney sought the answers to life’s persistent questions as he struggled to provide a living for a growing family. The attorney met the editor, and a columnist was born. Like good news reporting and good editorial style, good legal advice is never out of style. The increasing availability of information on the Internet doesn’t obviate the need for wisdom … knowing how to apply that...

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PROBATE AVOIDED

By Tim Barkley. October 2021. We all sat down, appropriately distanced at opposite ends of the conference table. They began: “Our folks both died earlier this year, and we’re trying to sort things out. We really don’t know where to start.” “Sorry to hear,” responded the attorney. “May they rest in peace. Losing your parents is a tragedy, especially losing both so closely together. I hadn’t seen them in years, but I do remember them.” “Thanks. It was time, but yeah, we miss them. They told us that if something happened to them, we should ‘talk to Tim,’ so here we are … so … where do we go from here? Do we have to do ‘probate’? What is ‘probate,’ anyway?” “Well … not to be blunt, but probate is the legal way to move deceased people’s stuff...

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POWERLESS

By Tim Barkley. September 2021. “I don’t need a power of attorney. My spouse and I own everything jointly.” “My daughter is on all my accounts, so I don’t need a power of attorney.” “I’m not letting anybody take control over me! I’m not signing that paper!” “I don’t want my power of attorney to be active unless I’m unable to take care of myself.” “This long power of attorney form doesn’t apply to me. I just have a bank account and a car!” All of these all-too-common misunderstandings can create havoc for you and your loved ones. It’s true, if you and your spouse own your bank account jointly, either one of you can sign a check or make a deposit, no questions asked. But it takes both signatures to sell your car or your mutual funds, or to...

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PROBATE AVOIDANCE ON A BUDGET

By Tim Barkley. August 2021. We shook hands and sat down. “Now, if I understood you correctly when you called to set the appointment, you are here to talk about wills.” “Well,” ventured the husband, “wills or trusts – I’m not sure what we need. We hear a lot about trusts.” The wife nodded. “My brother has a trust and says everybody should have one.” The lawyer pondered. “Trusts are a good tool, but not everyone needs one. May I ask a few questions, so I understand your situation?” The clients indicated assent. “Do you have children?” “Yes,” answered the wife, “two daughters, both grown.” The lawyer nodded, “Is everyone mentally and physically healthy?” The husband gave a “thumbs-up” and ventured, “As far as we know.” “Good,” the lawyer...

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TO TRUST… OR NOT

By Tim Barkley. July 2021. “Do I need a living trust? I’ve heard a lot about them, and my brother said I need to get one. He has one, and he says it helps avoid probate. What is probate, anyway?” A living trust is a useful tool for many situations, but is not needed in every estate plan. Just as a hammer is sometimes, but not always appropriate (think of using it to clear your windshield of ice), so a living trust is not always indicated. Like the hammer on your icy windshield, a living trust might be overkill. There might be an easier way to accomplish your goals and meet your needs and those of your loved ones. A trust, whether a living trust or any other kind of trust, is an agreement between three people, or between people filling...

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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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