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Volunteer Lawyers Association trains attorneys on avoiding probate problems

May 30, 2019 Rob Abruzzese
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The Brooklyn Bar Association Volunteer Lawyers Project (VLP) hosted a continuing legal education seminar entitled, “More Probate, More Problems: Planning Estates Without Mistakes,” in Brooklyn Heights on Tuesday, May 21.

Attorneys Daniel Timins, from the Daniel Timins Law Offices, and Daniel Antonelli, from Antonelli & Antonelli, Attorneys at Law, were the lecturers. They spoke as an estate planner and an estate litigator to explain to attorneys the best practices in the field and how to avoid common mistakes that could cause problems in probate.

“Dan Timins has an estate practice that deals leans toward the planning side, whereas my practice deals with the probate side — after death,” said Antonelli. “Our opposite expertise made for great synergy. It was something of a ‘before and after’ effect. It was like hearing a presentation from a prosecutor and defense attorney, two sides of the same coin.”

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Antonelli explained that the duo made an attempt not just to explain the nuts and bolts of drafting a will, or how to probate a will, but instead made it a discussion about the dangers of what could happen if a will isn’t drafted properly.

“An attorney drafter should make sure the nominated executors and the drafter have names and addresses for all heirs, even if the heirs get nothing,” Antonelli explained. “Dan even suggested that the names and addresses actually be placed in the will. This is important because when the nominated executor goes to probate the will, jurisdiction must be obtained over all heirs.

“If the executor doesn’t know the heirs, then a significant hurdle is presented,” Antonelli continued. “The executor must search for the heirs and, if unsuccessful, ask the court to permit jurisdiction to be obtained by publishing the citation in a newspaper.”

The VLP hosts regular CLE seminars for attorneys for free if the attorney agrees to take on a case pro bono. As a result, the CLEs often attract younger or more inexperienced attorneys. However, there are a fair amount of veteran attorneys who are expanding their practice in certain areas, or need to keep up with developments in the law.

“VLP programs often attract attorneys new to the practice area, so we target those attorneys, but try to include intermediate pointers as well,” Antonelli said. “The conversational style of the program allows the direction and depth to be guided by the attendees’ questions, making for a presentation tailored to the audience.”

The goal of the CLE, Antonelli said, is to educate the lawyers to put them in the best position to help their clients avoid situations that can often linger for years and cost them thousands of dollars. In this case, even a question about what to do with an old will once a new one is drafted can have big implications.

“People in general need to know these things and the way they learn is often through their local attorneys, so it’s important to have an educated bar that, in turn, can educate the public,” he said. “Will drafting and probate are two areas that are taken up by many general practitioners. Attorneys who service small, tight-knit neighborhoods in Brooklyn need to have a wide array of knowledge in order to advise clients on a variety of issues.

“Trusts and estates is one of those areas that just about everyone deals with at some point in their life. A regular Joe from Brooklyn might never be involved in a corporate merger, but he’s very likely to deal with an estate issue for himself, a family member or a friend.”

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