Need for Estate Planning

Need for Estate Planning

I do not intend to be Chicken Little with this post. However in 2011 unless Congress acts to extend the estate tax credit all estates over $1,000,000 in value will be taxed at 55% of the entire value. This means that many people who previously would have had few estate tax issues presently need to examine planning options to protect their assets for their heirs.

That means that If planning has not already begun, the clock is ticking. What do you need to do in order to be ready?

The first thing you need to do is determine what your net worth is. Compile your account statements as well as your real estate holdings. The combination of these two basic totals will give you an initial basis of your basic net worth. If you are a business owner a valuation of your interest n the business will be necessary to include in the calculation. Once your net worth is established it is imperative to sit with an estate planning attorney to determine how to preserve your assets

When you sit with your estate planning attorney make sure you bring with you your net worth documentation so that the planner may review the assets to determine what else may be included in the calculations. That will make sure all information is available to make the best plan for you and your family ensuring the assets you worked hard to obtain will be able to be there for your children.

The estate planning attorney will explain the various options for you. They will start talking about different trust vehicles that may fit your needs. Listen carefully and understand certain trusts will divest you as the earner of this income of control of the assets. Others will allow you to maintain control but may lose certain benefits to you. Each individual’s circumstance is extremely specific so meet with your planner to best determine your need and the right planning to protect your assets as well as ensure your family is able to enjoy what you have worked hard to attain rather than the US government.

Todd Engel
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http://www.engelatty.com
Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/toddengel

Why I love being a general practitioner

I love being a general practioner!

I represent corporations and individuals in such a wide and varied area of the law. I handle matters involving business planning and ultimate representation, estate planning, civil litigation, personal injury litigation, real estate, and equine law.  I have and do represent people criminally, as well as in Family Court.

Each day and case offers me a new opportunity to expand my knowledge in the law. But more importantly, it allows me to guide and assist my client in a way that is best for them. While each practice area may be different in scope and focus, the goal at the end of the day is always the same; get the best result for the client.

While each practice area has definite differences, they all excite me and keep me interested and involved. I love that one morning I can be working on a complaint in a personal injury matter and that afternoon I can be working with a family to figure out how best to plan their estate.

The saying goes variety is the spice of life. With my practice, my life is therefore definitely spicy! Which is how I like it.

Todd Engel

Engel Law Offices

[email protected]

Moving My Practice

Dear Friends,

I am pleased to announce that effective December 22, 2009, I will be relocating my practice to 214 N. State Street, Syracuse, NY 13203. My new telephone number will be 315-295-1450. My new fax number will be 315-478-1687. My email will remain [email protected] My Saratoga office remains at 1104 Middleline Road, Ballston Spa, NY 12020.

I will continue to represent individuals and small businesses in the following practice areas:

• Estate Planning and Adminstration
• Trust Drafting and Implementation
• Business Development and formation
• Personal Injury Litigation
• Commercial Litigation
• Equine Matters, including partnership formation, syndication, licensing issues, or any other associated matter.

I look forward to this new opportunity and am excited to continue to provide the quality personal based representation you have come to expect from Engel Law Offices. Please contact me with any questions regarding this move.

Wishing you and your family the best during this holiday season.

Todd

Law Office Technology Part 2

My last blog post dealt with some basic technology in order for a practice to hit the ground running. We will now discuss certain additional applications to make running an office more seamless as well as effective.

As I said previously, Microsoft Outlook is the email calendar and task tool that has the market dominance. This is because it is bundled with Microsoft Office. I use it to keep my contacts as well as my calendar and my emails. While stability can be an issue, it is the industry standard. Google has an online calendar system that is pretty good, however being that it is unsecure, I would not recommend it for law office calendar management due to confidentiality issues.

Clients today expect and deserve feedback as quickly as possible. That is one of the many reasons smartphones have become ubiquitous with attorneys. What an individual looks for in a smartphone is an ability to synch with your email, contacts and calendars. There are many flavors, whether it is the Iphone, the Blackberry or the Palm or variations on their theme. The key to me is to be able to have the information not only at my desk but also at my fingertips when I am out of the office.

Document assembly software is important in making sure you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. When your practice has developed a niche, use the appropriate software to generate repeat documents. Hotdocs is a great example of this. I also use Drafting Libraries for various documents. The quality of the document produced is quite good and there is certain customization and flexibility which is important.

Every lawyer wants to be paid for what they do. Therefore invest in a good time and billing package that can be utilized both by you and your assistant. Ideally it should feed into your phone/PDA so that you can quickly capture time outside the office. You should be able to enter fees quickly and easily. You should be able to set whether you are billing on an hourly basis, flat fee basis or contingency fee. You should ideally be able to combine this with a practice management suite which sets forth a conflict search. Try demos of these products, there are many and again, different people like different programs.

Technology is constantly changing and evolving and lawyers have to stay current to best serve our clients. Join the technology group of your local bar. Join the ABA Law Technology section. Read and learn what you can but remember don’t use something without trying it first.

Todd Engel

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Basic Office Technology for a Solo

It is somewhat ironic that I am writing a blog on the importance of technology to practicing law as a solo while Legal Tech is presently underway. Legal Tech is the largest conference regarding practicing law and the use of technology. I am sure the seminars and materials are fascinating and the swag is going to be fantastic, however this year my attendance is not meant to be. That does not diminish the importance of all types of technology for a solo attorney. I have decided to make this a two part blog. The first will be on “basic” technology; hardware, phone system, wordprocessors and the like. Second post will deal with more web 2.0, case management software, and other detailed technological issues.

The very first piece of technology that every office must have is a good quality telephone system. Sure you can run to Office Max and buy a $99 cordless phone and answering machine and be done with it. That sends two messages, I work on the cheap and I don’t value you as a client. Remember one thing, perception is someone else’s reality and when you look cheap the clients will perceive you as cheap. For me, a phone system has to have voice mail, call forwarding, an ability to add at least one caller to a call and caller ID. These are essential to a good practice in that it aids you in being responsive to the clients. Newer phone systems will send emails to you with either transcripts of the voice mail or the voice mail itself as a file attachment. I am not sold that is necessary, but if you are into add ons go ahead.

One needs to start out with a good solid computer system. I am not advocating it be Vista, the sooner Microsoft buries that operating system the better off those of us non Mac users will be. I am not saying don’t use a Mac either. I am the wrong guy to make hardware suggestions. The important thing is that the system you use be stable. In that vein, look at the RAM you want to have in the computer and double it. It is a way to help insure that when you are running two versions of word processing, a bookkeeping suite, a time management suite calendar email and several windows in a browser you don’t crash your computer.

A large monitor is ideal, two are better. The reason I say this is that if you have two monitors and you are working on a document or brief where you need to research and drop in language simultaneously, two screens will allow you to have the word processor open and your research open and move seamlessly between the two. I would think two 19 inch screens are the way to go.

A two printer system is ideal for most small offices. The first printer being an all in one with a glass scanner and document feeder in order for you to be able to create PDFs to keep paper files to a minimum. Yes, another reason for dual monitors you can scan the document in and have it on one screen and on the second have your reply letter, email or document and refer to the original effortlessly. The second printer I would have is a high quality laser printer for document production. I still find that inkjets smudge too much for my liking especially when I use highlighters.

Finally for this section, we will discuss generally about office suites. Wordperfect was for many years the standard bearer for legal offices. It was the suite found in every single office and was the one that most attorneys were trained on. That has slowly shifted to the point now where Microsoft Office has the dominant market share for lawyers; this only makes sense due to the fact that if you buy your computer through Dell or other manufacturers Office can come preloaded. Although certain versions of Word and WordPerfect allow for viewing of each other’s documents, the formatting is never the same as it was in the original software. I also am using Open Office more, not because I am programming in the open language, but instead want to meet all my clients needs. Word is now my primary word processor. Outlook is my primary calendar and email provider . However, I can seamlessly go into WordPerfect when a matter or document calls for it.

In the 21st century, lawyers who do not use technology to their advantage are one step behind the competition. The next part of this will detail more software and web based choices including ways to network online and ways to make your practice more effective to help you generate the product your client deserves and you want to be proud of.

Todd Engel

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WHY LAW AND WHY SPECIALIZE?

More often than not, people I meet invariably ask me what I do for a living. It is common place to ask that question, because it allows you to learn more about the person you are interacting with. I always answer that I am a lawyer. Never do I say that I am a certain type of lawyer. I let that conversation develop over time.

I then am asked why you became a lawyer. The short quip is that I am genetically predisposed, after being the third generation in my family to practice law. That is a flippant response that really does not touch on the real reason I became a lawyer. I have a desire to help people and the law offers me that opportunity to help my clients achieve their goals and desires.

So, then the question as to what type of law I practice comes up. For the first ten years of my practice, I said I was a general practitioner. I wanted to be that lawyer everyone went to for issues from cradle to grave. I did divorces, I did DWI’s. I did trusts, estates and probate. I even dabbled in Worker’s Compensation. I was everywhere and spread very thin in what expertise in any subject I could provide. I had a choice to make, I could specialize and find my niche or continue to spread myself across all aspects of the law and not truly have a focus for myself or my clients.

I changed that starting this year. I am now focused on wealth development and preservation. Sounds great Todd, but what does that mean? It means that I am focused on establishing and representing small and closely held businesses from their inception through successful operation. It means that I represent individuals in making sure that their assets are protected for the future. It means that I will make sure that the estate planning necessary for individuals meet their needs and the needs of their family. It means that I will make sure that assets survive for children and future generations. I also will work to determine the best ways to make sure any charitable gifts are done in the best manner.

Todd Engel

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The Importance of CLE

The Importance of CLE

I am on my way to attend the Heckerling Institute put on by the University of Miami School of Law. I will be spending the week in Orlando ( I know, hate me if you must but that’s where they decided to put it) for the next five days learning about Estate Planning, and Trusts for sophviagraticated individuals. I am fascinated by what they will state given the current market situation. I  am really excited to bring back what I learn to my clients and my practice.

In New York, lawyers are required to take 24 hours of Continuing Legal Education, (CLE) every two years. This was enacted so that the public could be sure that attorneys kept up to date on the practice of law. Prior to this regulation, there would be lawyers who would graduate law school and never take another continuing education course until they retired. I believe that is a disservice to my clients and in fact routinely have taken almost double my required hours.  Why would I go to that trouble? Here are five reasons, in no particular order.

1.       KEEP UP TO DATE ON THE LAW: The law is ever changing and evolving.  There are new laws being passed by the State Legislature or Congress that effects your practice. CLE offers the best way to know what is happening and to be able to apply it to your practice.

2.       EXPAND YOUR KNOWLEDGE: CLE  offers an attoney to expand his or her knowledge not only in the practice area  that he or she is specializing in, but in different areas that he or she may not have  considered before. It is a great way to expand your niche.

3.       PICK THE EXPERT’S BRAIN: People who teach CLE courses usually have developed a specialty  that allows them to advise the rest of the bar. Use that opportunity to your advantage. If you have a difficult probate issue and are at a probate CLE, ask the question. Taking advantage of the opportunity presented to you is not overstepping, it is good business sense.

4.       YOU CAN NEVER LEARN TOO MUCH: My father once told me when I was deciding about going to law school, the one thing that they can never take away from you is your education. Go  to seminars. Learn what you can so  you have knowledge. It can never be taken from you and you never know when you’ll need it!

5.       NETWORKING, NETWORKING, NETWORKING. When you go to CLE courses, take the advantage of meeting people. You never know where a referral may come from. You never know what benefit you will gain from that new connection. Every time you go to a CLE you represent yourself and your practice.

This is why I feel CLE is so important. I will continue to attend CLE events and make sure I gain the benefits available to me.

Todd Engel

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Engel Law Offices

7222 E. Genesee Street

Fayetteville, NY 13066

Twitter: www.twitter.com/toddengel