Last week the annual Southern New Mexico Estate Planning Institute was held. This is the 18th year of this institute, and it continues to be very high level and the best two day program addressing the issues of estate planning that is held in New Mexico. It attracts lawyers, accountants, trust officers, development professionals and financial planners mostly from the southern part of the state and El Paso, but increasingly from other parts of the state, even as far north as Taos. The Institute was started by the Community Foundation of Southern New Mexico and is now co-sponsored by the Southern New Mexico Estate Planning Council. Speakers come from all over the United States.
The Institute is a good example of cooperative and complementary effort by a community. When it was begun, a great deal of time and effort was donated by attorney Richard Gregory, who had the vision to see that a community foundation needs to establish a strong base among planners. A few years ago, Rich nearly died during heart surgery and has been recovering from the effects of that trauma ever since. Although now retired, this year he and his wife Nancy were able to attend the institute, which was a happy event for all attendees.
Ruth Pregenzer, Marcy Baysinger and Nell Graham Sale spoke this year at the Institute. PBWS was the only law firm that had three speakers. We were more than happy to donate our time and expertise to the Institute, and look forward to helping out again in the future.
Ruth’s talk addressed the ethical issues facing lawyers and accountants in estate planning. This is the first time that the accountants’ ethical code has been addressed at the Institute. Using a case study, Ruth described the issues of conflicts of interest that can arise when one represents family members, who may initially have the same interests, but as time passes, or a parent dies, or children remarry, develop conflicts, while the lawyer and accountant may have represented all of the parties along the way.
Marcy presented on professionalism. Lawyers in New Mexico are required to attend at least one continuing education class on professionalism every year. This is a hard topic to define, but as Marcy put it, you know it when you see it. She used lawyer jokes to dramatize how the public perceives lawyers and made practical suggestions for professional behavior, both with colleagues and with clients, which can improve collegiality as well as the outcome of cases.
Nell provided a brief update on charitable giving. Charitable giving decreased in 2009 by approximately 3.6% from the previous year. It was interesting to note that community foundations were among the third largest recipients of charitable giving. But the main focus of Nell’s talk was a report on the Affordable Care Act and how it can affect elderly and disabled persons in New Mexico. Although health care is not what most estate planners focus on, we have found in our practice that addressing the health needs of our clients is crucial. Following the talk, many participants made a point of thanking us for that information.