The Advisor’s Guide to Life Insurance
By Harold D. Skipper & Wayne Tonning (Chicago, IL: ABA Real Property Trust & Estate Law Section, 2011). 516 pgs. $89.95. Order, https://shop.americanbar.org/.
Reviewed by Mark T. Johnson
This comprehensive guide is arguably the go-to resource for estate planning, tax, and business lawyers who advise their clients regarding the needs and options for life insurance. Life insurance is a unique asset – primarily purchased for the benefit of someone other than the purchaser, perhaps for modest purposes such as burial expenses or for more significant purposes such as estate liquidity for tax liability or business succession. The Advisor’s Guide covers all aspects of life insurance, from reviewing the soundness of companies issuing policies to determining the type of coverage needed for a particular purpose.
The book offers near-encyclopedic explanations of all aspects of life insurance products. The authors cover the following subjects in considerable depth: 1) the life insurance purchase; 2) assessing life insurance company financial strength; 3) life insurance policy fundamentals; 4) determining the appropriate policy for each application; 5) life insurance illustrations and sustainability of policy values; and 6) ongoing policy management.
For my practice in estate planning, the chapters about determining the appropriate policy, whether for family security, estate planning, or business uses, are the core of the guide. These chapters expand my knowledge and enhance my client advising, whether I am assessing options for clients buying insurance or analyzing clients’ existing policies. Other chapters provide excellent background or additional considerations for comprehensive analysis of life insurance products.
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The book is well organized with parts, chapters, and headings logically arranged, marked, and cross-referenced. Navigating the guide is nearly effortless because the reader can locate information from various references – the table of contents, introductions to each part, and the index.
In addition to clear explanations and organization, the book includes numerous supporting and supplemental features. Various charts and diagrams throughout the book present data and illustrations. Seven appendices supplement the text with data and examples, and the 30-page glossary itself is nearly worth the price of the book.
Two minor drawbacks are easily addressed by the reader. First, some of the topics might not be commonly relevant to every lawyer, such as understanding every possible attribute and feature of a life insurance policy. For such topics, the dense and technical explanations can be too much information to absorb or find useful. However, this guide is meant to be a reference rather than to be read straight through, so it is best used for addressing specific topics when questions arise.
The second drawback is that the 2011 copyright is starting to show its age. For example, the book refers to several 2009 data sources and studies, which seem stale to a current reader. In addition, estate tax law has changed significantly since 2011, so the estate tax references in the book reflect outdated law. The reader’s remedy is to be alert for these outdated features and supplement knowledge with secondary and current information. Because of the overall high quality of the guide, I am confident that the next edition will be updated to address these drawbacks.
If your practice entails advising clients regarding life insurance, I highly recommend this book as a handy reference for all things life insurance.
Mark T. Johnson, U.W. 2008, is a partner with Christenson Johnson LLC in Fitchburg and practices in estate planning, elder law, probate and trust settlement, and special needs law.
Verdict: It’s a Keeper
Convicting Avery: The Bizarre Laws and Broken System Behind “Making a Murderer”
By Michael D. Cicchini (New York, NY: Penguin Random House, 2017). 213 pgs. $18. Order, www.penguinrandomhouse.com.
Reviewed by Kara Burgos
Convicting Avery is “an independent and unauthorized exploration of the legal, evidentiary and ethical issues in three court cases featured in the documentary.” It speaks to the law, procedures, rules, and categories of evidence that played a significant role in Steven Avery’s (and Brendan Dassey’s) conviction(s). Cicchini delves into these topics as a means of exploring the rules in the context of criminal defense in Wisconsin and nationwide.
The book merely scratches the surface, as far as the details revealed in Making a Murderer, but it adroitly goes deeper for the curious into the legal issues that plagued Avery’s defense team. This book does a good job in introducing nonlawyers to the nuances of the criminal justice system and provides a good primer for lawyers who practice in areas other than criminal law.
This book provided an interesting backdrop to the Avery saga. Readers are cautioned not to expect any new revelations or startling theories that the defense might have missed in the first go ‘round. Nor will readers come away with “new” respect for how the prosecution handled itself throughout both trials (Avery’s and Dassey’s). There is no mystery regarding on which side of the fence Cicchini falls. Nonetheless, he is clear and precise in his descriptions and provides a well-written explanation of the legal theories that led to the convictions.
The hard part for lawyers reading this novel is the basic description of legal terms and events we see and deal with daily. The average lay readers will likely appreciate such explanations. I do think nonlawyer readers will enjoy the book more than lawyer readers. Cicchini’s goal – to explore criminal procedure and ethics and how the “system” contributed to Avery’s and Dassey’s convictions – was clearly met.
It is his overall belief that the system failed to protect Avery’s and Dassey’s right to a fair trial. And the system will continue to produce those same results for other defendants in same or similar circumstances. “That is, I believe the problem lies not with any of the individual lawyers or ‘players,’ but rather with the rules, standards, and referees that make up the system or ‘the game’.” WL
Kara Burgos, Marquette 1995 cum laude, earned a B.A., magna cum laude, from Saint Bonaventure University. She is a partner with Moen Sheehan Meyer Ltd., La Crosse, which she joined in 1995.
Verdict: It’s a Keeper
Two Shots Quick
By Ross Phelps (La Crescent, MN: Puntillero Press, 2017). Novel. 342 pgs. $14. Order, www.amazon.com.
Reviewed by Diana Camosy
Lleyellyn Shay, the eponymous hero of Ross Phelps’s first effort, returns in Phelps’s second novel. The life-changing events of Lleyellyn having mostly been resolved, the young man is settling into his life on a Montana cattle ranch, which is being used as a set for a movie. But trouble brews in paradise when Lleyellyn’s girlfriend is attacked while on her way home from visiting him. All clues seem to point to a member of the film crew, and it’s up to Lleyellyn and Montoya, the ranch foreman, to put together the puzzle pieces. In doing so, they become ensnared in a web of other unsolved crimes, as an intrepid deputy sheriff attempts to tie up some loose ends from his small town’s and Lleyellyn’s pasts.
Phelps’s sequel certainly improves on its predecessor, particularly by giving its characters some hard questions to grapple with, as well as several closeted skeletons apiece. This is not to say that the novel gets bogged down in melodrama – quite the opposite. The pace is as breezy as Lleyellyn, while doing a better job of letting the characters develop in the face of adversities big and small.
Moreover, while it does not leave readers hanging, Two Shots Quick does an excellent job of setting up readers for a third installment of Lleyellyn’s adventures, while potentially setting him up for a world of trouble. Two Shots Quick also shares Lleyellyn’s strength of living and breathing its setting. Again, the reader is struck by how much the novel luxuriates in the details of place, and one could probably draw a street map of Lleyellyn’s adopted hometown with the descriptions Phelps provides.
If Two Shots Quick has one flaw, it is that the novel suffers from a few situations that strain credulity. (Lleyellyn learning enough about entertainment law from a library book to negotiate a highly favorable contract with an A-list director raised an eyebrow with this reader.) Luckily, none of them are so key to the plot as to derail the entire story. Still, Phelps should be careful about playing with his audience’s suspension of disbelief: Lleyellyn may be young and bold, and Montoya may know his way around firearms, but they are not superheroes. On the other hand, as long as they are together, life will never be dull in Miles City. Phelps deserves much praise for his growing series, and readers ought to look forward to its next addition.
Diana Camosy, U.W. 2013, concentrates in administrative law, particularly benefits and programs for veterans. She lives in Washington, D.C., with her husband.