Google Calendars as a Timekeeping Tool

Happy New Year Everyone!

Earlier this week, a blog post I wrote was featured on the American Bar Association’s Law Technology Today blog.  For my first blog post of 2015, I would like to share this post with you.  This post is unlike other content I tend to post here because it is meant for an audience of other solo practitioners or freelancers.  The full text of the post is duplicated below, and is also available at the ABA’s Law Technology Today blog.

Google Calendars as a Timekeeping Tool

I am building a solo practice as part of an incubator program and, as such, my bottom line is crucial. In order to succeed, I have to be careful about the money that comes in as well as the money that goes back out. Therefore, when I first launched my practice, I knew it was important to optimize my income by using reliable and accurate timekeeping practices, but I also knew that I needed to find a system that was not unnecessarily expensive. This led me to develop a system to track my time using Google Calendar.

My system is incredibly simple: I created a separate calendar in my Google account called “Law Office Billing.”  I log any billable work on that calendar by creating an event that corresponds to the date and time worked. I use the Event Name field to track which client the work was for and the description filed to track exactly what work was completed during that time.

2If I incur an out of pocket expense or mileage for a client I track that as an all-day event.

1

When it is time to invoice my clients, I log into Google Calendar and view my Law Office Billing calendar in agenda view so that I can easily enter the information into Quickbooks.

3I have developed several tweaks to this system since I have started using it. For example, I color code each event to correspond with my invoicing practices—events are red, yellow, or green depending on whether the corresponding invoice has been sent and/or paid. I search for a client’s name in order to view billable time for only that client. I use the Duplicate Event command to copy events such as hearings and court dates from my personal calendar to my billing calendar. I generate a timesheet each month and save it in .PDF format by printing the agenda view of my calendar and the accompanying event descriptions to a .PDF file.

This has been a perfect solution for me. It’s cloud-based so I can access my time sheet and log my time whether I am working from home, from the office, or from the coffee shop down the road. It’s flexible and easy to use. It takes only a matter seconds to log my time so it is not overly cumbersome. I can access my calendar on any computer including my smart phone. And, it’s completely free to use.

I hope this advice is helpful to those of you building a practice on a shoestring budget. Good luck!

 

Aging with Dignity Toolkit: The Durable Power of Attorney

Planning is the key to aging with dignity.  In my “Aging with Dignity Toolkit,” you can learn about certain planning tools that you can use to control how your person and your property are managed as you age.

Following is a discussion of a document known as a “Power of Attorney.”  This document is a useful tool that can be used to appoint an individual to care for your finances and property in the event that you are unable to do so yourself.

What is a Power of Attorney?

A power of attorney is a legal document that allows a named person to act on your behalf. If you execute a power of attorney naming someone to act on your behalf, you are known as the “principal” and the person you name to act on your behalf is the “agent.”

Why Do I Need a Power of Attorney?

A power of attorney can be useful for a variety of reasons. For example, you can appoint a power of attorney to manage your bills while you are on an extended vacation. More often however, a power of attorney is a useful tool to use as you are planning to age with dignity.  As you age, certain ailments such as dementia or stroke might impair your ability to make decisions, thus rendering you legally incapacitated.  In such cases, a power of attorney is a useful tool that allows your pre-selected agent to step in and act on your behalf.

If you are using a power of attorney as a tool to plan for possible incapacity it must be a “durable” power of attorney. If the power of attorney is not durable, the authority that you grant to your agent will extinguish if and when you become incapacitated.

Note that a power of attorney does not allow the agent to make health care decisions on your behalf.  If you want to appoint an individual who can make healthcare decisions for you, you can do so by executing a health care proxy and/or living will.

What is Incapacity?

Capacity refers to your ability to make decisions. You are presumed to have capacity unless someone is able to prove otherwise by clear and convincing evidence. This means that the law does not assume that you lack capacity just because you carry a certain medical diagnosis or merely because of your age.

The law provides different definitions and standards for capacity depending on the type of decision you are trying to make. In the context of executing a power of attorney, you have capacity if you are able to comprehend three things: (1) the nature and consequences of the act of executing the power of attorney; (2) the provisions of the power of attorney; and(3) the authority you are granting to the agent under the power of attorney.

When Does the Power of Attorney Become Effective?

The power of attorney becomes effective when you and the agent sign the document.  The signatures must be notarized and you must have legal capacity at the time you sign the document.

If you want the power of attorney to become effective at a later date or upon the occurrence of a certain event, you can state this in the document itself. For example, you could specify in the document that you only want the power of attorney to be effective if and when you become incapacitated. If you do this, the agent named in the document will not be able to act on your behalf unless and until you become incapacitated. You might also decide to execute a power of attorney that is effective immediately but allow a third-party (such as the drafting attorney) to hold the document until a time or event that you specify.

Remember, a power of attorney is a very powerful instrument – it allows the person named as your agent to access bank accounts and other property on your behalf. Thus, if you do not want it to be effective immediately, make sure to say so in the document or store the document with a trusted third-party.

What if I Change my Mind?

A power of attorney is revocable. This means that you can completely revoke the document or modify it at any time.  Additionally, the power of attorney terminates upon your death (at that point, the executor or administrator steps in to act on your behalf in order to distribute your estate).

What if I Become Incapacitated and I do not Have a Power of Attorney?

In the event that you become incapacitated and you have failed to execute a power of attorney or other planning device the most likely outcome is that a guardian will be appointed by the court to act on your behalf.  Although you will likely be represented by an attorney during the guardianship proceeding, you might be unable to communicate your wishes at that point. Thus, a power of attorney is a valuable planning tool that allows you to specify the person who you believe is the best person to represent your interests in the event that you become unable to do so yourself.

The Basics of Intestate Distribution

A properly drafted and executed will allows you to do two things: (1) specify who should receive your property after your death; and (2) appoint a person to act on your behalf to distribute your property according to your wishes. If you pass away without a will, you are said to have died “intestate,” and the laws of intestacy are substituted for your judgment with respect to these matters.

The Laws of Intestacy

The laws of intestacy vary from state to state, but in general, the goal of intestacy is to distribute your estate in accordance with what most individuals would want. In New York, for example, the laws presume that you most likely would have left your property to your spouse and children. So, if you are survived by a spouse and no children, your entire estate goes to your spouse.[1] If you are survived by a spouse and children, $50,000 plus ½ of your estate goes to your spouse and the remainder (if any) is divided equally among your children.[2] The laws continue to branch outward, each time embracing more distant heirs such as grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, and first cousins once removed.

The laws of intestacy also determine who will act to distribute your property on your behalf. This individual is called the “executor” if appointed by a will or the “administrator” if appointed by intestacy. The executor/administrator fulfills a very important role because he or she is ultimately responsible for ensuring that your estate is properly distributed.  The executor/administrator will have the authority to access your bank accounts and other assets for this purpose.

If you create a will, you can name almost anyone to serve as executor. On the other hand, if you let intestacy govern, the law will make this determination on your behalf.  The laws specifying who can be named as the administrator try to approximate what most individuals would want. For example, in New York, if you are survived by a spouse, your spouse has priority (assuming your spouse is not an infant, incompetent or a felon).[3] If you are not survived by a spouse, your children have priority, followed by your grandchildren, and finally by other remote heirs.

Although these laws are a good start, they might not suit your specific circumstances. For example, you might not want your spouse to inherit your estate if you are separated but not yet divorced. You might not want your children to inherit their portion of your estate outright, particularly if they are very young or if the inheritance will disqualify them from receiving government benefits. You might want to disinherit certain heirs entirely. You might want to leave something for a close friend or domestic partner. You might want to leave specific items to specific individuals. Your children might be better suited to serve as executor than your spouse. Intestacy does not allow for any of these contingencies.

Conclusion

If you pass away without a will, the laws of intestacy determine how your estate is distributed and who has the authority to distribute it.   Although intestacy attempts to approximate a distribution that is acceptable to most people, it may not suit your specific needs.  If the laws of intestacy do not match your specific circumstances, you should consider creating a will that will govern the distribution of your estate.

[1] See N.Y. Est. Powers & Trusts Law § 4-1.1 (note that this is the law in New York as of the time of writing this entry; laws vary state to state).

[2] Id.

[3] See N.Y. Surr. Ct. Pro. Act §§ 1001 and 707.

Aging with Dignity Toolkit: Health Care Advance Directives

Planning is the key to aging with dignity.  In my “Aging with Dignity Toolkit,” you can learn about certain planning tools that you can use to control how your person and your property are managed as you age.

Following is a discussion of a documents classified as health care advance directives.  Many people are aware of the need to plan for their financial future.  Something that is equally as important (but perhaps less talked about) is the need to plan for your future healthcare needs.  Conversations about death, dying, and end-of-life care are uncomfortable and unpleasant, which is probably why most people avoid these conversations.  However, a small amount of planning can help ensure that your wishes surrounding your care are respected, even if you become unable to communicate those wishes on your own .

What Are Advance Directives?

Advance Directives are the tools that you use in order to direct others as to how to care for you in the event that you become unable to communicate your wishes.  There are two main types utilized in New York: (1) health care proxies; and (2) living wills.  Each is described further below; in general, it is a good idea have both a healthcare proxy and a living will in place.

Health Care Proxies

A health care proxy is an individual (or individuals) that you appoint to make decisions about your healthcare in the event that you are unable to make the decisions yourself.  You can appoint a health care proxy by filling out a form and having it signed and witnessed.

In some instances, you may want to appoint more than one proxy.  If you do so, it is usually a good idea to name one of the individuals as the “lead proxy” so that they have the final say in a decision if there is a dispute.  Remember — your proxy is supposed to make decisions in accordance with what you would want – not what the proxy wants.  Make sure your lead proxy is a person who is likely to know what you would want and likely to advocate for your wishes above his or her own wishes.

You can find a sample health care proxy form, along with instructions on how to complete the form here: https://www.health.ny.gov/forms/doh-1430.pdf

Living Wills

Living wills allow you to spell out specific wishes about your care.  For example, you can specify in a living will whether you would like to receive artificial hydration and nutrition, antibiotics, or other extraordinary measures.

You can find a sample living will here: http://www.nysba.org/WorkArea/DownloadAsset.aspx?id=26506

What do I do with My Advance Directive After it is Completed?

After you have completed your Advanced Directive (health care proxy, living will, or both) you should sign the documents in the presence of two witnesses.  The witnesses must also sign the documents.  You should you provide a copies of the completed documents to all of your healthcare providers so that they can put them in your medical record.  You should also provide a copy of the documents to a few trusted loved ones.  Additionally, you should keep a copy in “wallet card” format on your person. If you want to revoke or modify the documents later, you will have to let everyone who has a copy know, so it’s a good idea to keep track of who you have given copies.

What if I Change my Mind?

Some people fear executing advance directives because they are worried the documents are permanent or will cause doctors to withhold treatment for routine medical care.  Remember, advance directives only come into play when you are unable to make decisions about your own healthcare.  If you are able to make your own decisions they will override the advance directives.  For example, if you say in your living will that you do not want antibiotics if you are in a vegetative state, this will not prevent your primary doctor from giving you antibiotics for a minor infection when you are otherwise healthy.  Further, advance directives can be freely revoked or modified by you at any time.  In fact, you should revisit these documents at regular intervals and change them as warranted by changes in your wishes.

Conclusion

Advance directives are an important part of planning for your future, regardless of your age.  Taking the time to create a health care proxy and living will can help you maintain autonomy and control over your medical care even if you become unable to express your healthcare wishes.