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Grace Notes

By: Attorney Katherine S. Breckenridge, Esq.

Published August 1, 2017

Elder Law

Remember that first love note you wrote? Hold that thought . . .

Do modern-day heroes really exist? Would we recognize one if he or she appeared right in front of us? And, what would we want to say?

Perhaps your hero may not embody the stereotypical image. Your hero may not even bear a resemblance to anyone else’s hero. Does a hero really have to be packaged perfectly or need to appear in a shiny suit of armor? Could your hero be the one who came alongside you to fight an illness or who fought his or her own illness, an employer who gave you a job, a neighbor who brought you food, a child who spoke a kind word, or your parent who taught you about Faith?”

The concept of one being a hero seems to be synonymous with one who has done something extraordinary. From our very formative years, we observe examples of what may comprise the best in human spirit. The examples may be the selfless acts of our parents, the insight and direction of an elementary school teacher, Good Samaritans helping those in need, people with the gift of working with our older adult population, or individuals with the God-like vision of being missionaries. Somewhere amongst all that bears witness to the very best in human spirit, we catch a glimpse that each makes a personal choice, often a sacrifice, so that another might gain.

Your hero may be embodied in that spouse who got down on bended knee or who was the “she said yes” one; who encouraged you in different career pursuits, was with you when you took ill, the one with whom you raised children, the one with whom you pinched pennies, the one who tells you how wonderful you look even as age is making its mark, and the one who knows you better than anyone else.

That spouse becomes a foundation and a lifeline, inseparable from you. From the beginning of that relationship, planning and provision occurs, whether through employment, caretaking, or celebration. Wise stewardship and provision also includes estate planning.

In my role as an estate planning attorney, I find that there are often many individuals and entities that a Testator or Trustee would like to remember in the drafting of his or her Will or Trust. They range from spouses and children, to extended family members and friends, as well as charities. Discussions about estate planning, though necessary, are not always easy and are frequently uncomfortable; however, the most poignant of all is when a couple is faced with planning for the imminent incapacitation of a spouse, that individual’s knight in shining armor – his or her hero.

These are the times when I pray for unshakable faith, for them, for me. If there ever was an Achilles’ Heal, this subject and that of one’s children, must be it. The two had joined with the understanding that each would be there for the other, that they could depend on the other, that the season of life that they enjoyed in the early years, would be that much sweeter in their later years; the understanding of each other would run so deep. The surreal feeling of a timeline having proceeded, too quickly, is almost more than one can grasp.

The feelings of love, guilt, anger, fear, and loneliness can become overwhelming as life’s pattern often begins to shift very rapidly, as one faces the real possibility of becoming the “caretaker,” and neither can stem the shifting.

Planning ahead for the foreseeable and the unforeseeable is what estate planning addresses; in addition to communicating a message, it often provides for provision when we are no longer able to.

Though this provision is essential, so is the message. This brings to mind, lyrics from Sara Groves’ “What Do I Know.” “She lost her husband after sixty years, and as he slipped away she still had things to say. Death can be so inconvenient. You try to live and love. It comes and interrupts.”

“She still had things to say . . .” That grips me every time. It seems that equally as important as writing estate planning documents, is taking the opportunity to leave a personal letter. Is there something you would like to say to your hero – your spouse, your child, your family member, or your friend? By this, I mean a memory or a sentiment that you would like memorialized in writing.

How much would it mean to you to know you had told your hero one more time that you love them? That you are proud of them? That they mean the world to you? What would it mean to you to be in receipt of such a writing?

You may even know someone who would like to leave such a sentiment to a spouse or a child, yet they are no longer able to pen a letter on their own. What a gift it would be to offer to write down memories of family outings, favorite holidays, how spouses met, battles fought, causes won – perhaps making it a celebration exercise, capturing a legacy to be shared for generations.

I encourage you to add a separate tab in your estate planning document binder, and call it Grace Notes. Pick up your pen and paper. Write that love note. “Dear hero . . .”