Paul Strugs Completes Year as Chair of the Probate, Trusts and Estates Section of the Houston Bar Association.
Probate, Trusts & Estates Section: A Year Navigating the Pandemic
By Paul D. Strug, Chair
As it has for all of the sections of the Houston Bar Association, this past year has presented unique challenges for the Probate, Trusts & Estates Section. For many years, the Section members have gathered on the last Tuesday of each month, September through May, for some continuing education, followed by an opportunity to network and visit with fellow members of the Section. Throughout my tenure as Chair, we have not been able to continue with any in-person gatherings; as such, our suite of programming has moved entirely on-line.
While the pandemic has affected every member of the HBA, it did have some unique considerations for members of the Probate, Trusts & Estates Section. For those members whose practice is focused on estate planning, the inability to meet clients in person has made executing documents far more difficult. This was coupled with the fact that many individuals sought to get their Wills and ancillary planning documents finalized and executed, as they began to understand the severity and spread of Covid-19. Fortunately, Governor Abbot relaxed some of the rules which require the physical presence for a notary on certain estate planning documents. This allowed for some greater flexibility for Section members to accommodate their client’s planning needs. With this backdrop, the Section kicked off its programming year by hosting (on YouTube) Bill Pargaman, a partner with the firm of Saunders, Norval, Pargaman & Atkins. Bill focused on the impact of the pandemic on the estate planning practice and some options for getting documents executed. Bill’s presentation was accompanied with A Guide to Executing Estate Planning Documents in Uncertain Times, which has proven to be a valuable resource for Section members throughout the pandemic.
Another common theme of Section members during the pandemic was how many of us were working remotely – from a home office, kitchen table, or anywhere else in the house with some privacy and a strong Wi-Fi connection. To provide some guidance as more and more work was being handled in such a fashion, the Section asked John Ansbach to speak about cybersecurity concerns and considerations. John is an attorney currently working with Stroz Friedberg, a division of AON, with a focus on cybersecurity protection and remediation for businesses, including law firms, who have been victims of such an attack. John shared recent high-profile ransomware attacks and phishing attacks, as well as some alarming statistics and trends. He also offered some practice tips for Section members to consider in order prevent a cyber-attack, and to mitigate damages and loss of data if such an attack does occur.
The four Harris County Probate Court judges, and their wonderful staff, have worked diligently to allow the probate process to continue as efficiently as can be permitted during the pandemic. As such, hearings via Zoom have become a regular occurrence – in fact, many practitioners have commented that their clients prefer a Zoom probate hearing, instead of navigating downtown Houston, parking, and the courthouse. In June, the Harris County Probate Court judges participated in a panel discussion, hosted by the Houston Bar Association, to inform local attorneys about practicing before their Courts during the then-current shutdown. Additionally, the Probate, Trusts and Estates Section will host its annual judges panel on April 27th to allow Section members to hear any further updates, and to gain some additional practice insight from the Harris County Probate Court judges.
The balance of the section’s programming this year has been focused on various core components of estate planning and probate law, including David Johnson speaking about Trust Administration, Nolan Moulle’ offering some insights on the SECURE Act, Keri Brown providing a current update from the Tax Court, and Professor Gerry Beyer entertaining the Section members with his case law update.
If you are interested in becoming a member of the Probate, Trusts and Estates Section, or for more information about the programs planned for the balance of this year, please visit https://www.hba.org/?pg=probate-trusts-estates
Paul D. Strug is Chair of the Probate, Trust and Estates Section of the Houston Bar Association. He is a shareholder at Weycer, Kaplan, Pulaski & Zuber, P.C., and is board certified in estate planning and probate law, by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, Paul focuses his practice on estate planning, probate and trust administration