Friday, March 27, 2020

The Educator Within: When Repeating the Past Creates Roadblocks

The Educator Within: When Repeating the Past Creates Roadblocks
By Melinda Gustafson Gervasi
March 27, 2020

Awareness hit me like a lightening blot this past Thanksgiving.  My life was upside down, literally.  We were in the middle of a kitchen remodel.  Cabinets were torn out, a sink was missing, and the crew took my old oven away.  No oven, no "traditional" Thanksgiving meal.  Yet, despite the facts in front of me I attempted to forge ahead with Thanksgiving.  The roasted turkey, mashed potatoes, green beans, and of course pumpkin pie.  Up went my creative energy.  Use a crockpot for the turkey instead of the oven, buy a pie instead of baking one, etc.  And then it melted away.  I awoke on Thanksgiving morning and realized my plan to save Thanksgiving simply wasn't going to happen, nor would it be festive or enjoyable.  I set aside the template for the holiday enshrined in my mind since my earliest memories, and called good friends who are neighbors.  I took them up on their offer for our family to join theirs.  We did.  It was lovely.  It was festive.  And it was nothing like the Thanksgivings of my past.

Pumpkin pie, homemade in 2020 by my 11 year old son.

As the days grew darker and another holiday approached my mind settled on the fact that my kitchen life was a lot like that of my mother, and even that of my grandmother. Living in the Midwest and possessing the basic skills to cook, my standard M.O. was meat, veggie and a starch at the evening meal.  And holidays required hours, over several days, to prepare.  But, my mom wasn't a lawyer.  She ran a plastics machine in a factory and left everyday with the 3pm whistle.  My grandmother wasn't a lawyer, she ran a home that raised 5 children.  Neither of them balanced a legal practice while raising two children with a spouse who had an intense career as an electronics engineer.  No wonder I felt so much stress.  I was attempting to run my kitchen as though it were the 1970 or 1940s.  And so I stopped, and life improved.

This does connect with estate planning dear reader.  As I sat across the table from a client with a contorted facial expression similar to my own that past Thanksgiving, I shared the story of letting go of how my family had done things.  She too was attempting to repeat a process of her parents and grandparents, but within the area of estate planning.  Her life in 2019/20 did not resemble the life of her older relatives.  What worked for them wasn't working well for her.  So she set aside the "old ways" and embraced modern options.  Soon her tension evaporated, her mind cleared, and her plan unfolded with efficiency.

If you find yourself struggling to recreate the estate plans of your parents or grandparents I urge you to step back and ask yourself why?  Just because it worked for them then, does not mean it is a good fit for you now.

Thank you for reading.  Please remember a blog post is intended to spark thoughts and discussion; it is not legal advice nor should be it taken as legal advice.  I urge you to consult with an attorney who practices estate planning in your home state.  Be well, and thank you for reading.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

The Nudge: What Pushes Us to Update or Create an Estate Plan

The Nudge: What Pushes Us to Update or Create an Estate Plan
By Melinda Gustafson Gervasi
March 24, 2020

An estate plan, it's something most American adults know they should have.  Yet, many put it off.  From what I've read it is less about embracing the idea of illness and death, and more of an inability to wrap their minds around the financial pieces of their life.  What pushes them over the hump from having it on their mental to-do list and actually have one signed and tucked away?  A nudge.

Until recently those nudges fell into certain groups for clients:

  • Travel, especially international travel;
  • Stage 4 cancer diagnosis;
  • Birth of a child;
  • Imminent retirement; or
  • Watching the mess unfold from a loved one who had died without a plan.
As of this week I can add:
  • Pandemic.
My heart goes out to the various callers I have talked to this week.  From those with parents in their 80s who do not have plans, to those expecting a first child, to those on the front lines of medical services, I hear the concern.  I am doing all I can to assist via phone and video meetings.  And I'm not alone.  The cooperation of estate planners all over Wisconsin on list serves about how we can serve those with urgent needs, and still comply with witnessing requirements as well as social distancing, has been inspiring.  

Thursday, March 5, 2020

What I've Been Reading: Friendship, by Lydia Denworth

What I've Been Reading
Friendship: The Evolution, Biology and Extraordinary Power of Life's Fundamental Bond by Lydia Denworth
By Melinda Gustafson Gervasi, March 2020

But for the persistence of a close friend, the client would have died.  That was the take-away from a client meeting I had a year or so ago.  Like many people, the client was older, single and lived alone.  Contrary to the client's normal ways, a Saturday evening dinner was canceled because the client was under the weather.

The next morning the client called in sick to teach Sunday School, and upon hearing this news the client's astute and caring friend new something was amiss and showed up at the client's door.  Visibly disoriented, the client's friend knew medical attention was needed.  Refusing the astute friend to call 911, the client agreed to be driven to the ER.  And then the client's memory fades to black. Afterwards the ER doctor told the client "had you stayed at home one hour longer, you would be dead."  Septic shock nearly killed my client.  A friendship saved a life.

Today I finished reading Friendship: The Evolution, Biology, and Extraordinary Power of Life's Fundamental Bond by Lydia Denworth. Her book pulled this memory from the back of my mind to the forefront.  As an estate planning and probate attorney I spend my days preparing client documents related to illness and death.  And I see the strain on faces when I ask who will be your health care agent? Who will be your backup?  So many people have no obvious answer, and the stress is visible.

Denworth's book is heavy on the hard science behind friendship, however, it is worth pushing through if you are more of a social policy student like myself.  Sprinkled throughout the book are the personal stories that bring the science to life, at least for me.  From birth to retirement age (and beyond), Denworth discuss how friendships are formed, and the benefits they provide.  My take-away from this book is that a power of attorney for health care is important, forming the bonds to know who to name is critical.  The more "isolated" an individual feels, the greater the risk of illness.  Denworth states "those who answered that they had five or fewer interactions per month with close friends and family were considered isolated".  Meaning mortality risk was increased.

My only criticism of the book is that it was a bit lite on the how of friendship.  She touches on the role of co-workers, faith-based organizations, community groups, and a group of friends and family.  I would have enjoyed a bit more discussion, and suggestion, on how to build the critical face-to-face time into our busy lives.  I can say her book influenced me.  While reading this week my youngest asked for a sleepover on Friday night with 2 friends.  My first thought was "no, we have a busy weekend, yada yada yada."  Thinking about Denworth's discussion of her children's friends I went against my instinct and not only said "sure", but also invited a friend of my son's to stay over as well.  So our house will be filled with 5 children's voices Friday night.  And when they have trouble settling down and not talking, I'll remind myself that they are forging critical friendship bonds, a lifelong need.

Thank you for reading.  As always, a blog is intended to spark thought and discussion.  It is not legal advice, nor should it be taken as legal advice.  Please consult an attorney in your state of residence for advice specific to your situation.