Subscribe to our Newsletter

Click here to learn more


Burlington, VT office 802.540.0529
Hanover, NH office 603.643.6072
Rutland, VT office 802.773.3822
Woodstock, VT office 802.457.9492

May 9, 2011 Newsletter Archive

Through the years we have met with many clients, young, old and very old, and no matter what a client's age, we are sure to ask as part of our estate planning work whether that client has prepared a health care power of attorney (generally known as an advance directive).  Although health care directives are probably one of the most important documents we will hopefully never need, even with much publicity and support among the medical and legal community, a recent statistic revealed that only 25% of people had executed such directives. Our mission is that nearly every person over the age of eighteen has an advance directive for health care.

A Gift from the Heart for Your Graduate

Now that spring has finally sprung in the northeast, we relish in the vibrant green meadows and the blooming tapestries of our landscapes, and if we are parents of teenagers we busily participate in the traditional spring passages, prom, awards ceremonies, baseball and softball, and of course, graduation. If your child is graduating, or has recently turned 18, you may be thinking about graduation presents. What do you get for a young adult who will be striking out to college, the work force or the military? We can say without hesitation that one of the most important gifts for your young adult is to guide him or her in executing an advance directive.

There may be a lot of superstition around our own mortality that prevents many of us from taking this recommendation seriously. However, our children are exposed to potential dangers every day. Once they are 18 we are no longer their legal guardians, unless we are so appointed by the court. Unfortunately, we have had situations in which a young adult child has suffered a terrible accident, and with no advance directive or financial power of attorney in place, the parent had to move the court for guardianship over his child. This tedious and expensive process is generally made unnecessary when one has an advance directive.

With an advance directive a person can specify exactly what they would like to happen should a crisis befall him or her.  The document would be used in situations in which an agent needs to speak on behalf of the principal (that is, the one executing the document). Medical decisions may be made by the agent on the principal's behalf saving much of the anxiety and time delay which is caused by seeking a guardianship through the probate court.

But what of the angst that such a young person may encounter when reading end of life concepts such as those enumerated under an advance directive? The process of engaging in planning at an early age may at first be daunting but it can quickly become an amazing teachable moment as a young person begins his or her adult life. The advance directive forces us to think about the "what ifs," and allows us to discuss those end of life issues in a calm environment rather than facing them only in a crisis situation. Completing an advance directive together with your child allows both of you to reflect on your relationship and your values around life and its more traumatic aspects. Moreover, rather than grow up avoiding the most difficult life decisions, your child will learn to take an active and thoughtful role in his or her life planning.

Not to be forgotten, another important and essential document is the financial power of attorney. As children mature they will open bank accounts, and if they are only in a child's name then there will be problems should he or she be unable to make financial decisions. A financial power of attorney allows a person to name a responsible agent to act on his or her behalf should he or she be unable to do so. Like an advance directive, it is best to have executed a financial power than have to seek the court to appoint you guardian.

This graduation, you can certainly still give a young relative a nice gift, but consider also giving a gift from the heart that will protect them for a long time to come; an advance directive and a financial power of attorney.


New Hampshire State Budget Forces Many Cuts

In its May 13, 2011, edition the New Hampshire Bar News provided a snap shot of the agency's affected by New Hampshire's state budget cuts. Although there have been efforts made to create efficiencies in the judicial system there remains a shortage of judges and there are plans to lay off as many as 60 employees. How does this impact our clients? For most of our clients, dealing with court generally means using the probate court for matters concerning estate administration. Congestion built up due to short staffing in the New Hampshire probate courts may result in delays regarding executor appointments and related matters and these delays can be frustrating to us and our clients. Unfortunately, we think these changes are probably going to have to be considered our "new normal." Although, most of the time the probate courts in both Vermont and New Hampshire are truly user friendly, very speedy and efficient, there are times when delays occur. Letting you know that these delays may be possible in your estate administration or other probate matter may help mitigate the stress just a little. In any case, we will continue to use all of our skills and our staff to help move your estate matters forward, even knowing that certain matters are simply out of our control. Of course, one way in which to avoid future delays in probate court is to utilize probate avoidance strategies such as revocable trusts.  If you have any questions about the New Hampshire Judicial Branch budget cuts, estate administration or probate avoidance please call or email us.



Dickens' Bleak House: A Contemporary Message about Inheritances and the Perils of Court Proceedings

By Daphne Moritz

Ever since I watched the contemporary BBC version of Charles Dickens' novel Bleak House on Vermont Public Television I was captivated. I wanted to discover more about London's Court of Chancery, more about what drove some of the characters to self- destruction over their protracted estate battles. So one Sunday afternoon I picked up my Kindle and ordered Bleak House and I dove right in.

Although at first I was overwhelmed by its length (this would be no problem with an actual book, but I wasn't sure I could handle this on an e-reader) I was not disappointed. I later discovered the Bleak House is considered Dickens' finest work and I am not surprised. Rich in the complexity of the human condition, Dickens takes time and effort to fully form characters. Basically, we know what makes them tick. Yet, there are mysteries that unfold, and parts of the novel read like a precursor to Sherlock Holmes.

The novel weaves an intricate tale written both from the perspective of a first- person narrator, the good Esther Summerson, and an unidentified third-person narrator.  It is from this third-person narrator's present tense viewpoint that we learn about the English chancery courts. Dickens was no fan of either the English judiciary or lawyers, and this is very apparent in Bleak House. Lawyers are portrayed as collectively corrupt bunch and the judicial system appears to beget more problems than solutions, in essence feeding into the lawyers' own livelihoods. As typical in Dickens' novels we also learn from this narrator of the multi-faceted social strata of Victorian London, from the poorest of the poor to the landed aristocracy. Esther's narrative is written in the past tense and from this we learn her deepest emotions.

The story lines run parallel to one another interlacing Esther's narrative, fraught with Victorian sensibilities, and the central point of the novel which is the Chancery court system. Of course, this pivotal theme is exactly why I picked up, or loaded up, this novel in the first place. I wanted to understand how these courts, whose primary purpose was to hear matters regarding wills and estates and uses of property, functioned. In the mid-nineteenth century, when Dickens was writing, there was already much criticism about the delays of Chancery litigation. Not surprisingly, Dickens smeared the Chancery system, highlighting not only its dreadful delays and tiresome procedures, but also emphasizing the destructive effects that protracted, unresolved potential family inheritances have on some people. I was very much struck by the personal, emotional and financial devastation there was on specific characters who could not reconcile the fact that their disputed estates may never be resolved in their life time, if ever.

My take away after reading Bleak House has been that while we may think we have come a long way from Victorian England, we continue to have similar characteristics when it comes to the lure of potential inheritances, when it comes to fighting out our disputes in one court or another, even as it erodes any semblance of this potential inheritance, even as it undermines our own health and well being. The lure of the inheritance can be self-destructive indeed, and I am quite sure that has not truly changed over time.

Accordingly, I took the message in Bleak House as one that I can apply now to conversations with clients about how to best treat potential beneficiaries and how to most carefully craft language which will provide both settlors and beneficiaries what they need, and hopefully avoid future disputes and protracted court battles.

Melendy Moritz PLLC is a client centered boutique firm. We focus on your unique needs by providing the individualized legal counseling and advising tailored to your specific situation.

We concentrate on the planning that matters to you.
Call us at 603.643.6072 or 802.457.9492


Return to Newsletter Archives