Health Law Pointers - Volume VIII, No. 3
The practice of medicine (or dentistry) is both a profession and a business. Practice development requires constant effort and personal attention. Marketing your practice may be more effective if you remember some simple rules:
- Make your marketing personal.
- Keep your message simple.
- Return phone calls promptly.
- Keep your business appointments whenever possible.
- Make yourself accessible (direct dial number, e-mail address, cell phone number).
- Write the way you talk – using down-to-earth, everyday language.
- Include your biography and a professionally taken photograph with your web-site.
- Add a personal note in any formal communication.
The Engagement Letter
The New York State Rules of Professional Conduct require a written engagement letter for all representations of new clients. Many lawyers also use such letters with existing clients in the event of an expanded or new client matter. The purpose of the engagement letter is to minimize or eliminate the potential for disputes between lawyers and their clients by setting forth the critical terms of the engagement. As such, an engagement letter commonly addresses the following aspects of an engagement.
- The client.
- The nature of the engagement and the services to be provided.
- The principal attorney assigned to the matter.
- The fee or hourly rates to be charged.
- The right of a client to arbitrate any fee disputes.
In some instances, representation of a new client may involve the potential for conflict - concurrent conflicts with existing clients, direct conflicts with former clients or the risk that representation may be compromised or materially restricted by the lawyer’s responsibilities to another - in which case the conflict must be disclosed and a written waiver obtained from the prospective client and the other party or parties involved in the conflict before the representation maybe undertaken.
The potential for conflict may be unavoidable in connection with the representation of several clients in one matter. This issue frequently arises when a lawyer is asked to represent two or more professionals interested in establishing a new practice entity. Although there are distinct advantages to a single representation where client interests appear to be aligned (efficiency and lower legal charges) the conflict still must be disclosed and each person given the opportunity to retain separate legal counsel. Even if the conflict is waived, the lawyer involved in a multiple representation should not represent any of them should a dispute later arise between them. In fact the lawyer may be required under the applicable ethical rules to withdraw from the representation in the event of a serious disagreement that remains unresolved.
Why Should I Plan My Estate?
Estate planning in general is essential for
anyone with assets in his or her own name (i.e. “probate assets”) and who wants
to direct the persons who will receive those assets upon the individual’s death.
If you die “without a Will”, New York law determines who will receive your
probate property – which may not be what you had in mind. In addition, your Will
may direct that the assets passing to your children be held in trust until they
attain certain ages so that their inheritance will be safeguarded until they are
mature enough to responsibly manage the assets. You may direct who will act as
the guardian for any minor children if both parents are not living. Finally,
from a financial standpoint, you may be able to achieve savings in the
administration of your estate and minimizing of estate taxes under state and
federal law by engaging in the estate planning process.
Other essential parts of ones estate plan
include a Health Care Proxy, in which you are able to appoint another person or
persons to make medical decisions for you if you are unable to do so. You may
consider signing a Living Will if you wish to avoid extraordinary health care
measures under certain circumstances where it is unlikely you will regain
functioning ability. Finally, a Power of Attorney allows someone to act for you
on non-health care matters (that is, primarily financial concerns). Both the
Health Care Proxy and Power of Attorney are critically important as they appoint
persons to act on your behalf in the event you become disabled or incapacitated.
For professionals, there are often special
concerns that underscore the need for planning including concerns over asset
protection in the event of professional or other liability. In addition, there
are certain financial issues that tend to predominate with professionals such as
the accumulation of large retirement plan accounts as a significant portion of
total assets. Special care must be taken to ensure that the estate plan provide
for the disposition of retirement accounts in a tax efficient manner.
Once an estate plan has been crafted, it is
highly recommended that it not gather too much dust on the shelf. Estate plans
need to be reviewed from time to time (perhaps as soon as every few years)
depending on change in personal or professional circumstances, a change in a
beneficiary’s circumstances, financial issues and the ever-changing federal and
state tax climate.
For example, at present, the Federal estate tax
is imposed on amounts of a deceased person’s property in excess of $2,000,000.
This means that each person has a $2,000,000 “exclusion” from Federal estate
tax. However, there is merely a $1,000,000 exclusion that applies to gifts made
during one lifetime and New York State has a $1,000,000 exemption from state
estate tax at death. There is legislation pending in Congress to significantly
modify the estate and gift tax laws, and thus ones estate plan may need to be
adapted in light of subsequent changes.
The bottom line is that estate planning should neither be neglected at the outset nor over time. If you decide you need to reassess your estate plan, you may wish to call on Lawrence C. Franco or Edward C. Robinson, each of whom have over 20 years of experience in estate planning and have assisted health law practitioners and medical professionals with their estate planning. They can both be reached at our office at 849-8900.