I've loved country music since I was a kid. It’s a delightful pleasure when a song comes on the radio that warms my heart and motivates me to sing along. The other day as I was listening to Tim McGraw’s song, “Live Like You Are Dying,” I got inspired to write this blog that has been whirling around in my head for awhile now.
Tim McGraw’s song is a story about an encounter with someone in their early 40’s who has been looking at x-rays, talking ‘bout the options and talking ‘bout sweet time. When the song writer reflects that this might really be the real end, he asks his new friend something like, what do YOU DO when you get this kind of news?
That’s when the chorus, a joyful paradox, makes me sing even louder, “I went sky diving. I went rocky mountain climbing. I went 2.7 seconds on a bull name Fumanchu. And I loved deeper. And I spoke sweeter. And I gave forgiveness I’ve been denying. And he said someday, I hope you get the chance to live like you are dying.”
I've had the privilege of getting to know many people who live life in the freedom and joyful celebration of life that Tim's song so artfully describes. And for the most part, these folks have developed a healthy appreciation of their own mortality. My theory is that this perspective about living life to the fullest is most pronounced in people who accept the certainty of death. It is for this reason that I love working with clients who are living their life in the full awareness that they are dying.
Practicing elder law like a social worker gives me a heightened appreciation for the importance of delving into a client’s life story. I never accept representation of a client until we have had a two-hour consultation. I know there are opportunities to purchase important legal documents for a flat fee with a limited time investment, but I believe that it takes time to fully assess a client’s strengths, challenges, needs, values and wishes in order to draft documents that accurate reflect the client's goals.
I’m happy that many families select me because I’m trained as a clinical social worker. I can often see hope and a sense relief in potential client’s eyes when I can sympathize, and often empathize, with their family situation. I find that the hard topics my clients and I discuss, in order from the easiest to the hardest, are: death, finances/budget, potential loss of independence, and finally, a family member’s or beneficiary’s mental illness, addiction, or disability. Just in the past two weeks, I've had two clients shared their revocable living trust estate plan drafted by attorneys who did not know that they had family members with some type of special need. While for the majority of my clients, a revocable living trust is not needed, I always explain the pros and cons of simple wills versus revocable living trusts. However, trusts are a great tool for helping clients achieve their goals when it comes to making plans for others with special needs or young (or immature) children.
I enjoy taking the time to draft the important legal documents for clients that reflect their needs, values and wishes. For example, I do not use the standard statutory forms for the healthcare power of attorney or living will. When applicable, I like to include specific information such as contact information for the client’s pre-paid burial contact, or directions for contacting an agency such as BioGift when someone has contracted to donate their body for medical training purposes. Sometimes I include specific messages from my clients to their family members when our discussion about their end-of-life reveals a message too precious to only be share in my office.
Every day, I strive to live life like I am dying. In my work with others, I enjoy sharing this joy of living by helping my clients and their families achieve a peace of mind about their estate plan and healthcare plan so that they can put these documents on a shelf and enjoy living life like they are dying.