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Estate Planning Practicum

College of Law
The Estate Planning Practicum Addresses Unmet Planning Needs

A practicum from the University of Wyoming College of Law helps low-income Wyomingites plan for their future while also giving law students invaluable experience in estate planning.

In June 2011, the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel (ACTEC) Foundation granted the University of Wyoming College of Law $95,000 to create an estate planning practicum.

“The practicum is now established and poised for future success,” says College of Law Dean Klint Alexander. “The success of the practicum here in Wyoming—one of the most rural areas in the country—is a major accomplishment that we are proud of and demonstrates that an estate planning clinic can be at any law school or in any area of the country. We thank ACTEC Foundation for partnering with us to achieve our goal of having a transactional law based program.”

From its outset, the goal of the Estate Planning Practicum was to address unmet estate planning needs of Wyoming’s low-income population. The law students that enroll in the practicum bridge the gap that exists in Wyoming by providing estate planning to clients whose income is twice the federal poverty level or below and also probate cases with minimal estate value.

Student attorneys help clients plan for end-of-life decisions including incapacity and declare their wishes for the distribution of assets after death. They draft wills, powers of attorney, advance healthcare directives and transfer on death deeds. The students also assist in simple probate proceedings and provide general estate planning and probate advice. It is a true hands-on learning experience. Each semester up to six students partake in the practicum.

David Hansen currently serves as the student director for the practicum. He joined the practicum because it presented an opportunity to learn about and practice transactional law. David aspires to expand the practicum to allow a greater variety of transactional opportunities and entice more students to participate in this unique practical experience. Expansion will also allow the University of Wyoming and the College of Law to increase the number of citizens they serve throughout the state.

To date, the practicum has provided legal counsel to 75 clients/cases. The client base is trending upward. In the most recent year, the practicum serviced 40 clients/cases. In sum, the practicum has completed 169 wills, powers of attorney, and advanced health care directives.

“We only help low-income people, so they’re already at a disadvantage because they don’t have many options,” says David. “We’re the only place they can go, so it’s really helpful to them and it’s really fulfilling to me to hear their problems and to map out a solution.”

The practicum is supervised and instructed by Laurie Edwards, an estate planning attorney with Prehoda, Leonard & Edwards, LLC and adjunct faculty member for the College of Law. This is Laurie’s second year teaching.

“My favorite thing is to work with the students and to see them learning and grasping new concepts,” says Laurie. “I want each of them to be able to say at graduation, ‘Yes, I know what to expect when I go out in the world and work in a law firm.’”

Having estate planning experts like Laurie and her predecessors supervise the practicum has been key to the development of the program and is part of the College of Law’s plan for the practicum going forward. ACTEC Foundation’s grant opened the doorway for other donors to contribute, which has led to the establishment of a $225,000-plus endowment that provides a permanent funding source for the adjunct faculty member to oversee the practicum. Moreover, other gifts have been secured to provide a stipend for the student director and for operation of the clinic.

In addition to monetary donations, it has also encouraged estate lawyers and ACTEC Fellows in Wyoming to support the college and the practicum with their time and expertise. Their knowledge and guidance will help students become successful in their lives and careers.

“I think the clinic in Wyoming is a win-win-win for the school, the students, and the clients it serves,” says Tom Long, an ACTEC Fellow and founding partner of Long Reimer Winegar Beppler LLP. “It’s an especially great fit with the university’s outreach and extension focus as a land-grant institution. I think it provides a wonderful real-world learning structure for the students, and it benefits an underserved clientele who have the same planning concerns as those who can afford to consult with attorneys in private practice.”

“I’m quite pleased to see the estate planning clinic take off at the law school,” says Donald Prehoda, Jr. an ACTEC Fellow and partner with Prehoda, Leonard & Edwards, LLC. “Teaching students the concepts of estate planning, coupled with practical applications of this knowledge, serves not only the students but provides underserved citizens with access to these services that they otherwise may be unable receive or afford.”

The practicum is now firmly rooted in the curriculum at the University of WyomingCollege of Law. “The College of Law thanks ACTEC Foundation, the law firm of Prehoda, Leonard & Edwards, as well as Tom Long, for their leadership and generosity in establishing the Estate Planning Practicum,” says Jim Delaney, associate dean of the law school. “Again, thank you to all of you.”

Photo caption:  Members of the Estate Planning Practicum, from left to right:  College of Law Associate Dean Jim Delaney, Student Director David Hansen, Melissa Burke, Bindi Pennetta, Brandon Edelman, Emily Williams, College of Law Dean Klint Alexander, Derek Thrall, and Laurie Edwards.

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