April 30, 2012 Blog by: Academy Guest Blogger, Shelley White-Thomas, Attorney & Counselor at Law+
Tagged with: Dying • Estate Planning • Estate Planning Education • grief • grieving • Hospice • law firm practice management • Law Firm Systems • Legal Education • loss • Practice Building Strategy • Shelley White-Thomas
I read the Academy’s March 26 blog post entitled How Do You Deal with Grieving Clients? and immediately wished I had a magic wand that I could wave over every estate planning attorney so that they could be prepared for every grieving client they see in their office.
The truth is…. grief takes so many different forms that you can never be prepared.
My perspective might be somewhat unique, and in some ways, it’s probably a worst-case scenario perspective.
I do a lot of pro bono work with Hospice patients in our area. It’s truly a different calling as many know… it is hard and difficult because our clients and their families know they are dying. Working with our hospice clients is never easy and truthfully, it sucks!
These patients take top priority in my practice. The Hospice director, social workers, and my Hospice clients all have my cell number. I may get a call from the director or from a social worker in the middle of the night, “a patient has decided that they are dying, can you come and talk to them?”
Whether it is 3AM or 4PM, my staff knows that when one of these calls comes in, it is serious. Please interrupt a meeting. Hospice staff knows better than I when someone is close to death – I hope my other clients understand this, too.
I am not a trained Hospice volunteer because their job is too hard. In fact, my staff’s job is too hard. We lose every client/patient we work with. Some stay on longer than others and we are always happy when someone outlives Hospice. Usually, they do not. And that is okay. As a staff, we attend as many funerals as we can, we send plants and sympathy cards, but it is never enough.
So, why do it? Our clients are not going to be with us long but our hope is that we can be there for them if they need us and put their wishes into place. We hope that what we can provide is a listening ear, and whatever it is that the Hospice patients want – whether it be a will, a trust, a patient advocate, whatever. Sometimes, it’s just holding their hand when they die. For many, providing these simple things gives them peace of mind that allows them to die peacefully.
And I guess I have to say that I may never be hugely rich in dollar figures but what I have gained from this experience makes having a firm of my own worthwhile because I feel like I have made a difference in many families’ lives.
And that is hard to gauge in numbers.
Shelley J. White-Thomas is an estate planning and elder law attorney in Sault Sainte Marie, Michigan. She is a solo practitioner at the White-Thomas Law Firm, PLLC and has been a member of the Academy since 2011.
Academy Guest Blogger
American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys, Inc.
9444 Balboa Avenue, Suite 300
San Diego, California 92123
Phone: (858) 453-2128