I am an estate planning attorney for the special needs community. I come from a family of social workers. My mother, sister, and step-father all were active in the social services field. My father is an attorney who helps the disabled secure public benefits.
Before Law School
When I graduated college, my sister was a case worker in New Orleans for a non-profit. They provided in-home care for the developmentally disabled. I had a fancy liberal arts degree, but that didn’t help me finding work. She got me one of my first jobs out of college as a personal care attendant for a pair of brothers who were autistic.
I loved my job spending the day with those two boys. It was deeply fulfilling in a way that I didn’t fully understand or appreciate at the time. I saw up close what it was like for a family with children that had special needs. I could see that the help that I provided was important to the functioning of the family. Taking care of the boys was a tough job. It was gratifying to be able to give their parents a break now and then – to give them options.
Some years later, my sister had a compelling vision to start her own agency providing personal care and services, so I went into business with her. We worked for about forty client families. After a couple of years, though, my sister began to have medical issues of her own. We sold the business, and I went to law school.
My Early Years of Law Practice
I didn’t plan to use my law degree to help people with special needs at first. Maybe it was my experience dealing with State bureaucracies that pushed that idea out of my head. I think at that point, I would have rather stuck a fork in my eye than deal with the Department of Health and Hospitals anymore!
It turned out, though, that one of my first real jobs as a lawyer was preparing a special needs trust for my sister. By that time, her medical condition had become disabling and she was receiving Medicaid and SSI benefits. Still, for whatever reason, serving the special needs community wasn’t an avenue I seriously considered. I just took the work that paid the bills.
It didn’t occur to me back then that estate planning could be something more than dry and boring paperwork. I had always had the image of it that I suspect many people do: older, “silk-stocking” lawyers preparing expensive legal documents for their well-heeled, social elite clientele.
Turning to Estate Planning
Then I met an estate planning attorney who described her practice in glowing terms as a spiritual endeavor. I really hadn’t ever thought of estate planning work like that. Oh, I had heard about the possibility of a law practice being spiritually fulfilling, sure, but estate planning?
As I looked deeper into estate planning law, I realized there were so many ways I could help people. There were tools that could be applied to help many of the clients I already had. I could bring them a sense of relief from a weight on their shoulders they didn’t even know was there.
I learned how to help people ensure that their wishes were respected and that their loved ones would be cared for no matter what life would bring. I explained these things to people, to my clients and their family members. I showed them these exciting features that could be included in their plans. Their eyes would get wide. They would say things like, “I didn’t even know that was possible! I need that!”
Now, I feel I can bring that kind of comfort, hope, and feeling of security for the future to the families that I’ve loved most of my life. Yes, estate planning is a business. But, for me, it’s something much more: It’s my calling, and it’s one I’m very proud of.