Colorado Supreme Court
Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel
Promoting Professionalism. Protecting the Public.
Succession planning can be a simple process or it can be a complex process. The relative complexity depends on what the planning lawyer wishes to accomplish. Fundamentally, a lawyer’s likely goals are to minimize disruption of client affairs, ensure safe return of client property, and prevent his or her family or estate from being saddled with returning client files and property, or, being mired in a client dispute because something fell through the cracks. This article describes the inventory counsel appointment process, the simplest form of succession planning.
Inventory counsel is a lawyer appointed by the chief judge of the district court where the deceased or disabled lawyer offices whose sole purpose is to wind up the deceased or disabled lawyer’s practice. Inventory counsel’s role generally is limited to securing files, returning them to clients, disbursing funds held in trust, and returning client property. Inventory counsel is court-appointed and supervised for the limited purpose described here. Once that process is finished, the court can terminate the appointment.
Lawyers who want a simple succession plan would be well-served to identify someone to act as their inventory counsel. That person will perform the limited tasks above. Generally, inventory counsel is not compensated for performing these duties, though that does not forbid the planning lawyer from paying inventory counsel or making arrangements to do so through his or her estate. No attorney-client relationship forms between inventory counsel and the deceased or disabled lawyer’s clients, and inventory counsel acts at the direction of the court. These factors potentially reduce exposure.
Colorado Rule of Civil Procedure 251.32(h) provides one way to obtain the appointment of inventory counsel: upon the filing of a petition by the Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel (“OARC”). It forbids inventory counsel from disclosing information in client files without the client’s consent.
Once a Colorado lawyer identifies another Colorado lawyer willing to serve as inventory counsel, it would be advantageous to inform anyone who may serve as the personal representative. Also, if a Colorado lawyer has someone in mind to serve as inventory counsel, it would be helpful to inform OARC since OARC may petition for inventory counsel’s appointment. Notice may go to the author at email@example.com. OARC also posts active inventory matters on its website to give notice to clients about whom they should contact to retrieve files.
More complex succession planning is certainly possible. However, for lawyers looking to create a basic plan, identifying an inventory counsel and informing the personal representative and OARC is a significant step in the right direction. Colorado does not require creation of a succession plan, but naming inventory counsel and ensuring that he or she has necessary information about your practice can save clients, families, and personal representatives time and stress in a difficult hour.