Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Not Your Grandfather's Estate Planning Practice

Mr. and Mrs. Buce ventured forth this afternoon to their friendly neighborhood estate planner: after 15 years, time for new wills. We'd never met this guy before but he came highly recommended as Palookaville's finest.   All seems on track now and we forecast a satisfactory resolution, at least providing we stay alive until signing.  But set that aside.  I want to talk about how things have changed.

Specifically: from the website (sic) one would infer this was a simple person law office but no--what you find is a capacious free-standing small office building showcasing services in Estate Planning and Eldercare.  Of course I know what "eldercare" means (or I think I do), but when, exactly, I wonder, did the word enter the language.

And showcasing is only the beginning.  Inside you find a lady at the front desk (of course), but also one or more secretaries and by my count, at least four people who bill themselves as "eldercare paralegals."   Our guy was running a little behind so I got a chance while cooling my heels to get some sense of how an "eldercare paralegal" spends her (his) day.  So far as I can tell, they spend a lot of it on the phone, trying to disentangle intricate issues about bank account withdrawals, management at nursing homes, perhaps a bit on insurance claims.  Could be satisfying work, solving problems, but it sounded pretty onerous and (I suppose this goes without saying) well above my pay grade.

But it struck me also how much this place reminded me of the office of the lawyer who does Chapter 13 cases: intense attention to big problems with (seemingly?) small numbers.  Or the tax accountant.  Or your doctor's office, where you can usually hear the biller on the phone with the insurance company---some insurance company, there are so many of them--trying to figure out what kind of claim goes where (or nowhere). 

And that prompted me to wonder: is this what "the service economy" is all about.  Or rather, how much time and energy and money--and employment--go into trying to cut through those problems of "paperwork" (as we used to call it) that we haven't yet learned how to  computerize?

Oh, and he charged by the minute, and the receptionist suavely suggested we might want to settle our bill before we went out the door.  Modern in every way. 

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