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A Mere Rowboat It May Seem

By Attorney Katherine S. Breckenridge, Esq.

Published June 14, 2018 – Culpeper Times

Estate Planning : Asset Protection

Six o’clock in the morning, with the waves lapping against the shoreline of the lake, and the sun beginning to announce its presence on the horizon, I spot it . . . a representation of where a legacy begins. Actually, I hear it first – the sound of oars rotating in the holdings on an aluminum rowboat and the waves hitting against the tiny hull. Then the image comes into sight, what appears to be a grandfather teaching his grandson how to catch a fish before the rest of the world awakes.

I look around the lake and see ten motorized fishing boats, settled in far from the rowboat, and adorned with multiple fishing poles and manned by two or more fishermen, perhaps years of fishing under-their-belts. I think of the life lessons that occurred for them from the time they stepped into their first rowboat.

As if to confirm my thoughts, I hear music coming from the rowboat – not a radio, but the grandfather singing a tune to his grandson, and now the grandson is doing the rowing, his small arms barely able to complete the rotation. The image, as it drifts into the path of dancing sun rays, appears as a shadow.

I breathe in the smells of the lake that is my healing place. We all have one – that spot that somehow centers us, allows us to re-ground and reenergize so we can remain focused on the work God has set in front of us.

Having only given myself two days to re-center, I almost allow myself to not take this moment of reflection, as I keep my phone and computer attached to me and respond to matters that deeply affect my clients and weigh heavily on my heart as well.

I find the reflections occurring in this very moment comforting as I become entwined in the meanings within this cycle of life. As in Lauren Daigle’s song, “There’s not a place where I’ll go, You’ve not already stood.”

But for this faith, there would be no compass for me, especially considering needs expressed just within these last twenty-four hours. The desire for updated language in a personal estate plan of a dear person who shared the unexpected news that her husband, who cared so much for his dad’s needs and care, has departed and is survived by his dad. My heart aches for this wife – her husband so kind, so full of humor, thinking only of others . . . now is not present. Hearing the plea from a client – the wish to address his estate matters very quickly before the ravages of cancer no longer make it possible for him to direct his own care, to make provisions to stay in his personal residence, or give instruction for the distribution of his assets. Emotional, yes – time sensitive . . . as in all estate planning matters.

I so wish I could take away the present pain for these precious ones. Though few relish the thought of preparing for incapacitation and death – as if the mere talking of such matters creates a reality, perhaps in an estate plan well-drafted to reflect their wishes a comfort will be found.

When I arrived at the lake for these two days, I breathed in the smells that have been here for the half-century I have known. I listened to the sounds that remain unchanged. I roamed between the tiny rooms, capturing mental images of things familiar – there in the basement was Grandma’s plaster figurine of a thinking toad sitting under a mushroom. The bush it once graced is no longer. And, of course, I am no longer the toddler who played near the thinking toad. My generation is now “adulting” as the millennials call it, and it is not easy. However, it can be so incredibly meaningful as we help prepare and protect the next generation.

If you are like many who don’t want to face the inevitability of death and possibility of incapacitation, and prefer like one client shared to not even say “the word,” but “in the event the event occurs,” . . . it is okay to “adult” when it comes to estate planning matters.

Before you face a life-altering event, I encourage you to ask yourself if you have adequately protected your interests and put a plan in place in the event you are no longer able to make decisions for your care. Take a thorough look at what assets are part of your estate. Have you protected and controlled those assets for your benefit and use? Have you set forth the distribution of your assets upon your death in a manner that reflects your wishes, which may not be reflective of the distribution default set forth in the Code of Virginia?

I am thankful for having the mysteries of life on which to contemplate. And, I am thankful that some of them, like life-altering events, can be addressed in one aspect through estate planning tools.

The seemingly endless set of other life mysteries . . . well, those are for another time – as now I look out onto the lake, from my perch above the waters – the fishermen with their advanced boats and poles are no longer on the lake, the sun’s widened path announcing another day in full swing, and the rowboat that had grandfather and young grandson sits a little lower in the water as it now carries three teenage boys.

My grandfather’s own rowboat, or dinghy as it is affectionately referred to – having known it as my first water vessel and having been the venue for many instructions for my children, sits overturned in the boathouse – awaiting the next generation.