Each New Year, we talk about how to better ourselves ― eat well and exercise, watch less television, spend more time with family, etc. And while determining how to live a healthier and more personally fulfilling life is an admirable goal, there’s another question, I think, to ask ourselves at the New Year: what can we do to effect positive change not just in ourselves, but in others? How can we, individually, make the world a better place?
One of my friend’s family members was recently diagnosed with terminal cancer. She did not expect this, and she is not prepared. Her wishes have not been recorded. And it’s hard for her to even think, let alone plan, when she feels so sick from the chemotherapy. Her family is arguing about what is best for her, and how to make it happen. This has already led to serious clashes that may take years to fully heal, and this process is just beginning. And the fact that my friend is in a family business just makes the dynamics all the more charged.
I’d like to say my friend is alone in this challenging circumstance, but as we all know, she’s not. When someone passes away, or is diagnosed with a terminal illness, families may argue. And if that person hasn’t planned in advance, the process can become even more difficult, sometimes tearing families apart entirely.
Unlike many people, we have been granted the opportunity to help others, to improve the world through our work. As attorneys, you help create and execute people’s wishes for the ends of their lives and after their deaths, through their healthcare and estate planning documents. As a healthcare directives registry and electronic document repository, we help ensure that these wishes can be known, available, and followed when it counts. It can be easy to forget amidst the day to day, but with these acts, our efforts can help simplify the complications that arise toward the end of life and after. These actions can help hold families together at the most critical of moments, when they might otherwise split at the seams. What a blessing it is that we have the opportunity to help others, just by doing our jobs.
Self-betterment is a great goal for the New Year, but helping others is at least as important. Clearly, the volunteer activities that we engage in throughout the year are an obvious way to give back. But at this time of year, I think it’s also useful to take a moment to reflect on the fact that this work is not just a source of income; it’s also a service, a means of helping others. As we go forward into this New Year, let’s pledge to renew our efforts to offer good counsel in helping people make the difficult decisions, to support them with these documents when they are needed, and to prevent unnecessary pain for family members when the time comes.
Wishing you a Happy New Year and good works in 2012.
Randi J. Siegel, MBA, is the President of DocuBank, the largest advance directives registry in the U.S., which ensures that the healthcare directives of its 190,000 enrollees are immediately available 24/7/365. Working with estate planning professionals since 1997, Randi frequently speaks at national estate planning conferences and has appeared on radio and television as an authority on registries. She is active in health policy pertaining to advance directives and serves as a Senior Fellow at the Jefferson School of Population Health in Philadelphia. Randi is an ongoing contributor to the Academy blog.
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