As a paralegal at Viner Law in Montrose Colorado, Jennifer Hemond spends most of her day dealing with estate planning and estate administration. “We just inherited a lot of clients from a retiring attorney,” she said, “and we have a small staff, so it’s hard trying to keep up with everything. There always seems to be some type of emergency getting in the way of your time.”
Estate administration cases are the reason why Hemond has a lengthy list of to-do’s related to public notice. As part of probate — a legal process that appoints the executor or personal representative of an estate after the estate owner dies — Hemond and the other paralegals at her firm are required to publish a Notice to Creditors on behalf of their clients who are the executors. These notices are what legally establish the bounds of when creditors are allowed to come forward with claims. Most Notices to Creditors give creditors four months to collect debt from the time they’re posted.
“If a notice doesn’t get filed, or doesn’t get filed on time, it negatively impacts our clients, and benefits the creditors,” Hemond explained. “If it takes me longer to get with the newspaper to start the whole process, it gives creditors more time to file claims, which could be detrimental to my client and the estate.”
In the US, it’s required by law that public notices are posted in a designated local newspaper of record. The main paper in Hemond’s county is the Montrose Daily Press, and that’s where most of her clients have to file their Notice to Creditors.
Filing a Notice to Creditors is a small part of Hemond’s job at the firm; however, the process used to take up a ton of time. Hemond highlighted three main parts of the public notice process that used to be particularly inefficient:
In order to complete the notice requirement part of probate, Hemond used to have to type in the complicated notice, word by word. “We had to write the whole thing up ourselves. It was just part of it. We did use something of a template, but the name of the estate was different every time,” Hemond said, “and the way we were sending it changed based on the newspaper we were sending it to.”
Working with multiple newspapers — with different requirements — did make the process “clunky,” described Hemond. Mostly, she dealt with the one newspaper — the Montrose Daily Press — but sometimes her clients were operating in different counties, which had different papers. To get it all sorted, Hemond had to call each county, and find out what format to send the notice in. “Each county had different requirements. For a while there, I knew the local ones and what they required, and it worked out okay, but when I had to call other counties, the format changed,” she said.
“Our newspaper used to do affidavits at the end of the month, not necessarily on the last publication of the notice’s run,” said Hemond. That could be an issue. “I usually got the affidavit when the newspaper billed at the end of the month,” she said. “But say the last publication of the notice was on October 3 — you wouldn’t get the affidavit until October 31. At times, you had to call and say ‘we really need it now,’ because we’re on deadline with the court.” Unfortunately, sometimes when they finally received the affidavit, it wasn’t in the best shape. “Our newspaper would sometimes mail the affidavit and attach the paper copy of the notice. If the notice was long, it was sometimes folded up and you couldn’t read it that well.”
Hemond admitted that the public notice process — and its inefficiencies — didn’t seem like a huge problem at the time, because she and the other paralegals didn’t know any other way. “These things were just part of it,” she explained. “We accepted the time-consuming aspects of the process.”
Last year, the Montrose Daily Press emailed Hemond’s firm letting them know that they were now using Column, a software that makes the publishing and placing of public notices easier for papers and their customers. Everyone who needed to file a public notice with the Montrose Daily Press would now be required to set up a Column account to do so.
“When I got notified about the transition, I was pretty curious about it and hoping it was an easy system to learn,” Hemond said. It was, she confirmed. “The system pretty much walks you through every step, so it was simple. The first time I used it, I didn’t have any issues or concerns. I understood how to do it right away. It’s much simpler, much more convenient.”
Thanks to the newspaper making this change, Hemond now saves a lot of time on the notice portion of the probate process. Hemond addressed two of her favorite features of the software:
“Instead of having to write up whole notice ourselves, the new system lets us just do it once and it’s standard for everyone,” Hemond explained. “I like that the notice to creditors gives you a pre-filled form, a standard form, so you can just plug in the information straight to the system.”
Hemond said that getting affidavits on time is now really easy. Instead of waiting to get the affidavit at the end of the month, the newspaper now uses the software to send Hemond the affidavit on the day of the last publication of the notice. “Say you publish the notice once a week for three weeks, that third week, on the last day, I get an email right away from the newspaper that says the affidavit is ready. I click on it, download it, and save it in the file. It’s that easy. Then we can file with the court, and I’m done with that task.”
“Column’s been a great thing,” Hemond said. “It’s easier for the newspaper and easier for us.”
Not only does the Column software make Hemond’s work life easier, it also makes her own clients happier by saving them money. “I used to have to bill my clients for all the time it took to post these notices, but now the software cuts our time in half,” Hemond said. “Law firms mostly bill in six minute increments. It used to take me 24 minutes to do notices. Now, thanks to the newspaper using Column, I can do it all in 12 minutes.”
Hemond recommends Column to other paralegals, emphasizing how easy it is to get set up and how easy it is to process notices. “It’s a great product,” Hemond said. “It makes public notices really easy. Billing and getting affidavits on time are a massive plus.”
The Montrose Daily Press is the Montrose County community newspaper, located at 3684 N Townsend Ave, Montrose, CO 81401.