From Daniel Defoe in 1726, to Benjamin Franklin in 1789, to Margaret Mitchell in 1936, authors through time have sardonically offered some version of the proverb that there is nothing certain in life other than death and taxes. I offer the additional point that at least you can predict the latter.
For those who don’t already know, my family (and more significantly, my daughters) recently suffered a tragic loss when my daughters’ father was killed on the evening of Mother’s Day on May 8th. He was on his motorcycle headed to work at the state prison when another driver in a small SUV pulled out in front of him at an intersection. He had the right of way, was wearing a helmet and a reflective safety vest, and was doing all the right things as he traveled, but even taking all the best precautions cannot prevent anothers’ inattention behind the wheel. He died a very short time later from massive internal injuries while en route to the hospital.
Since this time, my daughters and I have been going through the steps of grieving while trying to get used to a new sense of normal. But we also have had to face making some decisions and learning some lessons which we weren’t quite prepared for. I have been helping the family with disposition of property, navigating the probate and insurance worlds, and communicating with police detectives, lawyers, and all the many other individuals tangled in the web of my girls’ father’s life.
I never thought I’d be so lost as I have been these last weeks when dealing with learning new areas of law beyond those I’ve been working with over this last decade. I’m learning about minor conservatorships, informal probate, trusts and estates -- all in a perspective I’ve never had before. We’ve hired lawyers to handle matters arising out of the accident and I’m now given the unique view of the legal world – from the client’s eyes.
Engagement letters, fee agreements, experts and costs – these are all things that are normal in my day to day life as a legal support professional working in a busy litigation practice, but when you’re reading these documents as a client, signing away your power to a lawyer -- whom you’re eventually going to have to pay for his, his staff’s and his firm’s services -- you’re looking at things in a different light. And it’s not always a comfortable one either.
The things I’m learning as we deal with all this aftermath (besides the emotional coping stuff) basically boil down to one simple statement – Life is a gamble. As with any undertaking in life, there are risks associated with everything you do. Riding a motorcycle on a road that is poorly lit, with poorly designed intersections and traffic control, is a gamble. Not having a written will or not designating the proper beneficiaries to your estate and insurance policies – i.e., not having “your affairs” in order – has unintended consequences which your loved ones left behind will have to manage for you.
While we all sometimes fear having to deal with and acknowledge our own and our loved ones’ mortality, the certainty of life is that it will one day come to an end as we know it. And the ones left behind are left to deal with the consequences of your actions.
Life is a gamble. And there may not be time to get your affairs in order. We all need to plan for that eventual day when we will not be around to make decisions for ourselves and our loved ones have to deal with it all for us. Have you looked at your will? Do you have a will? Have you put your other affairs in order? Have you taken stock of your worldly possessions and decided what you would like done with them in your absence? While I know the tasks seem daunting, and the acknowledgement that one day this will be necessary, recent experience has given me pause and a new outlook.
May your lives be long, healthy, and prosperous. All my best wishes to you and yours. ♦
Audrey M. Saxton, PLS
President, NALS of Tucson & So. AZ (2011-2012)