Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Practitioner Support: ABA's Free, Online Resources

The Real Property, Probate & Trust section of the American Bar Association (soon to be known as the "Section of Real Estate, Trust & Estate Law") provides probate practitioners nationwide with a tremendous amount of free online support.

1. Magazine Articles by Recognized Experts

The section offers a topic index as well as a free read of many articles from its own bi-monthly magazine, Probate & Property.

For example, Texas' Professor Beyer, along with other contributors, offers up Keeping Current, and detailed practice-specific articles are found in every issue. In May/June, the second half of John Reddy and Marc Bekerman's article appears, "Essential Steps to Take After 'Finishing' the Estate Plan."

2. E-Reports on Current Practice Issues

Its periodic online RPPT E-Report also provides valuable information. One recent article that many might find helpful is "The Strongest Links -- Staying on Track with Track Changes," by Tom Mighell and Dennis Kennedy. If you don't know what "track changes" means, then you may want to read this article - because anyone using Microsoft Office word processing in the creation of legal documents is impacted by them.

3. Extensive Link List

The Section's website also maintains a link list - actually, three: one focused upon real property; another focused upon probate and trust law, and a third list containing more general information sources.

Links provided here include:

US Tax Code Online (searchable database)

Social Security Online (searchable database)

ABA's Tool Kit for Health Care Advance Planning

Saturday, July 07, 2007

CareGiver Support: Non-Qualifying Budget Help

Court personnel, as well as probate practioners, deal with a great number of individuals who are helping care for an elderly or incapacitated loved one. We know the costs involved, and appreciate the real financial burden this can sometimes place upon a family. This is particularly true for families who have income high enough to prevent qualification for some programs, and yet face budgeting for elder care and kids in college at the same time.

Here are 2 great resources which do not require any qualification. Anyone can participate who chooses to do so.

1. Angel Food Ministeries -- restaurant quality food sold at discount prices, including great bargains on things like steaks and seafood. Each month, a package of high-quality goods is offered. A sample month (all for $25):

1 package chicken nuggets
4 8-oz hamburger steaks
4 6-oz pork chops
1.5 lb. thick bacon
1 dozen eggs
2-lb bag of frozen French fries
5 bagels
2-lb bag of onions
4 Delicious Apples
5 Bananas
1 Gourmet Pie.

From their site:

"Angel Food Ministeries is a non-profit, non-denominational organization dedicated to providing grocery relief and financial support to communities throughout the United States....

"Angel Food's groceries are sold in a quantity that can fit into a medium-sized box at $25 per unit. Each month's menu is different than the previous month and consists of both fresh and frozen items with an average retail value of approximately $50. Comparison shopping has been done across the country in various communities using a wide range of retail grocery stores and has resulted in the same food items costing from between $42 and $78.

"Generally, one unit of food assists in feeding a family of four for about one week or a single senior citizen for almost a month. The food is all the same high quality one would purchase at a grocery store. There are no second-hand items, no damaged or out-dated goods, no dented cans without labels, no day-old breads and no produce that is almost too ripe.

"Also offered are specialty boxes such as steaks, chicken and pork. Many participants in this bonus program appreciate the expanded choices. Additionally, there is no limit to the number of units or bonus foods an individual can purchase, and there are no applications to complete or qualifications to which participants must adhere. Angel Food Ministries, like most all other retail grocery stores, also participates in the U.S. Food Stamp program, using the Off-Line Food Stamp Voucher system."

2. CareGivers' Marketplace -- cash back on dietary supplements; bathing and skin care; digestive health; incontinence care (adult diapers); home health care; mobility and independence; and nutrition.

From their site:

"The Caregivers Marketplace™ is the nation's first cash back program for anyone who gives, gets or needs care. You can receive cash back on eligible products that are not typically covered by insurance or Medicare – no matter where you buy them. Our program is free and your information is always kept confidential....Your cash back check will arrive in the mail within 4-6 weeks. It’s that simple."

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Blogs for the Probate Practitioner

Slowly but surely, we're compiling a link list (there, on the right side of the screen) of web sites that are helpful to those involved in Bexar County Probate Court issues. The sites range from eminent domain to elder law, and have information helpful to the lawyer and non-lawyer alike.

Blogs are not included in this link list. However, more and more blogs (or sometimes, "blawgs") are popping up here in Texas -- recently, the Texas State Bar began providing a blog directory on its site. The Bar's Blog Directory covers a variety of legal specialties: there are blogs for family law practioners, tax lawyers, and personal injury attorneys, among others.

The Bar's directory is new and growing -- but as of today, there were no probate-specific blogs listed. We did find a few ....

First, we found Texas Estate Planning Blog provided by Ford & Mathiason, a law firm with offices in both Houston and Dallas. This blog began in February 2007 and looks promising.

There was Gary M. Howell's Texas Estate Planning and Probate Law Blog which has some good information -- but the blog died in November 2005, when attorney Howell took a spot with Merrill Lynch to work with high net worth clients (according to his farewell post).

And, we don't understand why Prof. Gerry Beyer's Blog hasn't made it to the Bar Directory yet. It's a great resource, updated often, and a real find for probate practioners everywhere.

As for law blogs that are not probate-specific, there are several that you may find worth your time:

Jerry Buchmeyer has been blogging since 2003, posting on the same humorous topics as his beloved Texas Bar Journal column. It's not probate-specific, but what the heck. It's funny.

Houston attorney Tom Kirkendall has posted to Houston's Clear Thinkers for awhile now. It's got lots of legal thought, plus a variety of entertaining issues. Especially if you like baseball.

Practical Lawyering is a blog written by Chicago attorney who has left a big government job to open a solo practice specializing in estate planning. So far, he hasn't revealed his name. Wonder why....

At the end of April 2007, the San Antonio Express News began a blog, SA Hearsay, where reporters Elizabeth Allen, Guillermo Contreras, and Maro Robbins post regularly. The blog promises to provide "[l]egal tidbits from Bexar County's courthouses and beyond."

While this blog is not probate-specific, Ms. Allen has been posting regularly on the BK Johnson trial, which is currently being heard in our sister court, Probate Court One, with Polly Jackson Spencer as presiding judge. FYI, closing arguments begin Monday.

Other law blogs you might find interesting:

The Wall Street Journal's Law Blog
The Supreme Court of the United States Blog
Yale Law Journal Blog - The Pocket Part
Ernie the Attorney

Monday, June 25, 2007

10 Tips When Visiting the Courthouse

For some, the nearest that they get to the Bexar County Courthouse is driving past it after they've taken a wrong turn getting to Market Square or San Fernando Cathedral. There will be a time for most County residents, however, when they'll need to come to the Courthouse: marriage licenses; deed records; probate files; and jury duty are all reasons to visit.

Here's some helpful tips for Courthouse visitors:

1. Parking
Parking can be troublesome and expensive. The lots closest to the Courthouse (and the Justice Center next door) cost more than those farther away. They fill up quickly, too. Expect to pay as much as $12 for parking.

If you are willing to walk, try the lots near Durango and save yourself a couple of bucks. Park and Ride is a great option: you'll be dropped right by the Courthouse steps.

2. Timing Your Visit
If you don't have to be here in the morning, then plan your visit for the afternoon. Dockets are called in the morning: hearings are begun in the various courtrooms and documents are filed with the various clerks' offices. By the afternoon, a lot of this business has concluded. You'll face better parking and less lines if you visit in the afternoon.

You'll fare even better in the latter part of the week. Trials begin on Monday. By that Thursday or Friday, some of those matters will have resolved themselves.

Always sidestep entering via the south entrance of the Courthouse on the first Tuesday of the month because the steps are crowded with folk involved with the foreclosure auctions. It's packed. Try the basement entrance, or the northside doors facing Main Plaza.

3. Avoiding the Stairs
If you want to enter the Courthouse without taking the stairs, you can. Go to the southwest corner of the Courthouse grounds, and follow the ramps down into the basement parking area and Courthouse entrance. Ask a guard at the door for directions to your particular destination.

4. Mailing a Letter
Three elevators make up the main elevator bank, located in the central corridor of each floor except the fifth. Next to the bank is an ornate metal mailbox, built into the wall. It's very old. It still works.

5. Grabbing a Meal or Snack
Go to the basement. Take the tunnel, just south of the elevators, to the Justice Center. There will be an entrance on your right to a small cafeteria, where you can grab a snack or have a hot meal. They've got vending machines, too.

6. Grab a Smoke
There is a smoking area across from the cafeteria (see above).

7. Find A Notary Public
If you need the services of a notary public, then you can find one via the Information Center. The notaries are independent from Bexar County; however, one should be available at the Courthouse during normal business hours to help you.

8. Asking Questions
An Information Center is located on the first floor. Call for questions at (210) 335-2011.

9. Online Map with Directions
At GoogleMaps, you can find a map with driving directions to the Courthouse. There may be street closures due to construction -- like the Main Plaza Redevelopment Project -- so be prepared for detours and alternate routes.

10. Call First!
Most callers to Bexar County Information (335-2011) ask for information regarding a pending case. These people can avoid a trip to the courthouse by having the case number in hand, and calling (210) 335-2231 for civil cases and (210) 335-2238 for criminal matters. (For criminal cases, the SID number is helpful, too.)

Additionally, frequently requested documents can be requested online or by mail. These include birth certificates, marriage certificates, and divorce records. For more information (including fees) check out the City of San Antonio FAQ site which also provides information on how to gather documents from other locations (including the Metropolitan Health District and the Texas Department of Public Safety).

Monday, June 18, 2007

CareGiver Support: Caring for the Elderly

1. CAPS (Children of Aging Parents)

For full information, check out their national website. This organization hosts local support groups, providing information and support for children caring for elderly parents.

There are several meeting choices. For the location nearest you call 684-7080, ask for Jim Vaughn, email him at caps4sa@yahoo.com, or just attend a meeting. Current groups are meeting:

11:30 a.m.
first Thursdays of the month
Incarnate Word Retirement Center, 4707 Broadway
For more information, call facilitator Jill Trevino at 829-7661.

6:15 p.m.
first Thursdays of the month
Jewish Community Center/Family & Children's Services, 12500 Northwest Military Drive
For more infomation, call facilitator Jim Vaughn at 684-7080.

6:15 p.m.
second Wednesdays of the month
call for street location, Helotes.
For more information, call facilitator Carol Deel at 647-0336.

2. Alzheimer's or Dementia Caregivers Support

This is a local support group focusing upon the special needs of those caring for loved ones suffering from Alzheimer's Disease or various forms of dementia. This group meets:

11:30 a.m.
first Wednesdays of the month
Homewood Residence, 1207 Jackson Keller, Bldg. 2.
For more information, call Janice Brake 375-8132 or email her at jbrake@arclp.com.

[Information correct as of June 18, 2007.]

Friday, June 15, 2007

June 2007: This Blog's Bloggers

After lying dormant for awhile now, it's time for a change.

This blog is returning to the web with regular weekly posting. The subject matter of the posts will continue to be information helpful to the probate community - including not only Bexar County probate practioners, but all those who have an interest in the matters coming before the probate courts.

However, posting responsiblities have changed. Assisting the Judge in this regular posting chore will be Court Staff, occasionally, and lawyer and professional writer/blogger Reba Kennedy (www.rebakennedy.com) who is providing her writing services gratis, as a community service.

Post contributions from the probate community are always welcome, of course. Please feel free to submit your contributions to the Judge at anytime.