Estate Planning In the Face of Death

It was a cold, wet day when Yvonne and I presented at the Ecumenical Center, a great place smack in the middle of the South Texas Medical Center that opens its doors to many groups:  patients, caretakers, family members and organizations.  The local ALS Association had invited us to present basic estate planning to its members.  We were warmly welcomed.  We talked about wills, trusts, powers of attorney for legal, financial and medical decisions, HIPAA releases, directives to physicians, and declarations of guardianships.   We answered a lot of questions.  I revealed that my father’s twin died of ALS some years ago.

A few weeks later, a husband and wife who had attended the presentation set an appointment to come in and talk.  They asked and we gladly affirmed that their adult daughter was welcome to join us in our meeting.  The three of them worked through the issues with me, gently deferring to each other on decisions of who would do what, and when.  It’s different to do this when one of the clients is truly facing death.  The person holding the roles of wife and mother was graceful; strength personified in the midst of her mortality. The daughter seemed to have the steely reserve of her mother, yet as we progressed through the process, she began to soften, often sobbing gently.  The directive to physicians, a.k.a. the living will, was not some hypothetical discussion in this setting.  It was concretely real and we all knew that soon it may need to be shared with others so they would know what the writer really wanted at the end.

We quickly produced the documents, yet just days later when the couple returned to sign their plan, we could see the matriarch’s decline.  As they left, with our hugs, well-wishes and prayers, Yvonne retreated to her side of the office.  When I followed her and found her crying, she responded, “The woman. She’s so beautiful, so sweet, so brave.  She’s dying Matt.  And we’re seeing it.  I feel so sorry for her and her husband and her daughter.”  I tried to comfort Yvonne.  I felt the weight of our work and the honor we have to serve.

Photo credit, Ms. Abitibi