Music Conductor[See our Disclaimers page about relying on this website’s contents.]

Most families experience intense grief and sorrow when a loved one dies. The grief sometimes turns to frustration and depression when family members must organize the deceased person’s records, gain control of the person’s finances, and sell, distribute, or dispose of the person’s property. Many families become overwhelmed with the obligations to deal with the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, banks, insurance companies, and other institutions and agencies that play a part in a deceased person’s estate. If you think of all of these participants in the estate and trust administration process as members of a orchestra, the lawyer should serve as the orchestra conductor, coordinating the relationships among the family and the other participants.

Prelude

We begin in this orchestral analogy with a meeting of key family members with a lawyer to discuss what work required in the estate or trust administration, much as a orchestra assembles to tune its instruments. The family should bring the original will to that first meeting with copies of all trust agreements, bank account statements, and other documents that they can find concerning the deceased person’s estate plan and financial affairs. Sometimes not all of the information is available, but the attorney needs as much information as the family can provide in the first meeting to get a clearer idea of what the job will require.

A conductor prepares to meet with the musicians in before the first rehearsal to discuss how they concern will develop. Likewise, the family should always meet with the attorney after making early funeral arrangements, but before speaking with bankers, investment representatives, insurance agents, or anyone else, because the lawyer must help the family plan how to deal with all of those other participants (other band members). This is particularly important if the deceased person died without a will or trust, because lawyer must help the family decide who will fill the chief decision-maker role that a will or trust would otherwise specify.

The Lawyer’s Job

Part of the lawyer’s job in an estate is to coach the family through the administration process. Similarly, a conductor coaches musicians during rehearsals to keep everyone on the same performance plan. The lawyer will prepare all documents relating to the estate including all of the court petitions, federal taxpayer identification number applications, death benefit claims on life insurance policies and annuity contracts, and letters directing actions by banks and other financial institutions. The lawyer will coordinate tax return preparation with an accountant and inform the accountant about any special tax issues that the family may face.

Concert Performance

The lawyer can provide customized services to the family during the estate administration process. For example, inheritance may complicate problems for a family member with health or financial issues. The attorney can provide multi-generational estate planning during the estate administration to help all family members preserve and protect wealth. This planning process resembles a jazz conductor’s direction of solo performances during a concert to make sure that each person plays the right part at the right time.

Improvisational Direction

Unexpected things pop up sometimes in estate and trust administration, such as arguments between beneficiaries, liability for environmentally contaminated business properties, and contractual commitments with uncooperative third parties. Unscripted problems also plague musical performances, such as broken instrument strings and microphone malfunctions. Just as a master conductor improvises around such problems without compromising an artful performance, a masterful trust and estate lawyer guides the estate and trust administration process creatively through dramatic disruptions to accomplish the job smoothly and help the family grieve with dignity.

Jeff R. Hawkins and Jennifer J. Hawkins are Trust & Estate Specialty Board Certified Indiana Trust & Estate Lawyers and active members of the Indiana State Bar Association and National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys. Both lawyers are admitted to practice law in Indiana, and Jeff Hawkins is admitted to practice law in Illinois. Jeff is also a registered civil mediator, a Fellow of the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel and the Indiana Bar Foundation;  a member of the Illinois State Bar Association and the Indiana Association of Mediators; and he was the 2014-15 President of the Indiana State Bar Association.

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