Posted on: 23 September 2017
After decades of practicing probate law, you've likely accumulated reams of client files, including original will documents, mortgage notes, and other important papers. If your state doesn't have a surrogacy requirement that forces you to name another attorney to take over your files and cases in the event of your untimely death, you may run the risk of having these files improperly shredded or otherwise disposed of by your surviving family members. What should you do to ensure the proper caretaking of these important files and documents? Read on to learn more about how best to wind down your probate practice and ensure that all original documents find their way to their rightful owners.
1) Find a Surrogate
Having an attorney surrogate is crucial, especially for solo practitioners who do it all on their own. This surrogate doesn't necessarily have to be someone in your practice area, although this does help, but can instead be anyone who is willing to take custody of your files and communicate with your clients after you're no longer available. You may want to opt for reciprocal surrogacy, in which both you and your surrogate operate as each other's backup. However, in the event your surrogate dies, retires, or becomes incapacitated, you'll need to find a replacement surrogate quickly.
2) Identify Original Documents
Once you've identified a surrogate and have begun winding down your business, you'll want to go through your files to identify any original documents you still possess and make efforts to get these documents to their rightful owners. Most states' rules of professional conduct will mandate that attorneys return original documents (like wills, trust documents, mortgage notes, and others) to the owner of the record within a certain amount of time after closing a law practice.
If you're unable to locate the original owners, you're required only to make a "reasonable effort" to ascertain their location. Depending on the size of your city and the circulation of your local paper, you may opt to run a classified advertisement indicating you're closing your practice and instructing any former clients to contact you (or your surrogate) to request the return of client files or important papers.
3) Shred the Rest
Once you've identified the important papers that must be retained or mailed to the original owner, you'll want to securely shred the rest of your client files. This ensures that no information can be stolen and used in nefarious contexts, protects your clients' privacy, and even allows this paper to be recycled. Depending on the number of files you'd like shredded, you may want to contact a secure offsite shredding company to take possession of these documents for you and handle the process from there.
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