Let’s get the disclaimers out of the way right off the bat:
I am a lawyer. I make a living helping people with legal issues. I am passionate about what I do, dedicated to my clients, and expensive. I write blog posts to market my business and make money. And yes, I am trying to sell you something.
If any of that turns you off, you can stop reading right now.
But, if you want to hear a story that completely changed my outlook on life, then by all means, please keep reading.
First, a little about me. My practice is focused on family law and child welfare. I work with families at some of the hardest times in their lives and help them reach resolutions that will help them reach their dreams. It is draining work, and sometimes, it makes me think that lawyers who are not litigators get off real easy with a prestigious title. My place has always been in working face-to-face with clients and advocating in a courtroom.
Now, the story.
I was recently in court on a child welfare case. We had a young boy, barely school-aged, who had been severely abused and neglected by his mother. The situation became so horrendous that we were in court having a trial on whether the mom’s parental rights should be terminated and the boy put up for adoption. This is not necessarily an uncommon type of case for me to be working on, but it is certainly one of the most serious in nature. Terminating someone’s parental rights is not something to be done lightly.
Whenever I have a case like this, I make a point to become familiar with the background story of the family. For this little boy, he was born to two married heterosexual parents. They both worked, they had a small savings, and they rented a place to live. They were just fine financially, probably what someone would consider a typical middle class family. They were sharing a car, saving for their first house, and making dreams for their family years down the road.
Not long after the child was born, the dad died suddenly and unexpectedly. Without his income, the mom couldn’t afford the rent and ended up living in her car until that broke down. She turned to a life of begging and prostitution just to feed herself and her child. She no longer had health insurance, so she could not afford medicine or doctor’s appointments. Someone she encountered living on the streets raped her and her son. Between the grief, trauma, and her untreated anxiety and depression, she became what a medical expert described as ‘psychotic.’ She hurt her child both physically and emotionally. When this was discovered and reported, the child was taken into foster care. He had been living with a foster parent for over 4 years.
Are trials to terminate parental rights a normal part of my job description? Yes, they are.
Are stories like this common? Absolutely not.
As the trial went on, I watched this mother in the courtroom. What started off as “just anxiety and depression” had, without treatment, turned into much more dangerous diagnoses. She watched as her counselors and psychiatrists testified about her lack of ability to parent her son because of her health. She heard each of them say that if she had only been on her medications consistently, it may never have gotten this bad. My heart broke when I heard them say that no matter how much treatment she were to get now, she would most likely not be able to parent her son by herself until he reached adulthood.
Now remember, I’m a lawyer. I played my role in the trial, did my job, and compartmentalized my emotions. When I got home, I hugged my husband, looked him in the eye, and said, “we need to look at our estate plan.”
Yup, that was me. The litigator, the lawyer who can handle any emotion, and the breadwinner of my family. I always thought estate planning was boring. Sitting behind a desk drafting documents and working with numbers all the time is not something I ever really enjoyed. Sure, I have at times felt professionally obligated to advocate for everyone to have a will and a healthcare directive, but I only truly saw the benefit in very certain situations.
If you can tell me with complete confidence that you could never fall into the same place as the woman in that story, then stop reading and go about your day. I’ll tell you right now, though, that I don’t believe you. The truth is that any one of us could end up in that situation. This woman was living an honorable, ‘normal’ life until an unexpected event through her routine up in flames. That could happen to any of us at any time.
Maybe you don’t have a mental health diagnosis like she did…but are you certain that you could handle immeasurable grief without needing some help?
Maybe you have more in savings than this woman did, or you have more income-earning potential. Do you have enough in the bank right now to get you through from today until the day you die, especially if you would be a single parent?
Maybe you have friends and family to help you, and that’s great. But have you actually talked to them about what you may need from them one day?
The truth is that no one can ever be truly prepared for everything this woman had to deal with. Life is all about throwing wrenches in our plans and throwing us for loops. That being said, there are some things that may have saved her from going as far down the hole as she did. It’s possible that if she had even one of these things, she may not have been sitting in a courtroom at serious risk of losing her son.
Do you have a life insurance policy that pays out enough to keep your loved ones financially protected if you die? Does it cover your major debts, funeral expenses, and living expenses for those you support?
Do you have guardians established for your children, and even yourself, so that you know exactly where to go for help? Have you talked with them about what would cause you to reach out to them for help, and what you expect from them when you do?
Do you have a healthcare directive (or living will) and a healthcare power of attorney so that your loved ones know what you want in case of a medical emergency? Have you had uncomfortable conversations about life support and life-altering medical procedures with those closest to you?
Have you talked to your partner about what each of you will do if the other one dies? Have you written down your plan so that you remember what you agreed to in moments of intense grief and other emotions?
If you haven’t done these things, then you need to. And I want to help you, because as much as I love going to court, I don’t want to be a lawyer in a courtroom watching you lose everything in your life that you love.
At The Lien Law Firm, we help you develop a complete plan for emergency preparedness. Our flat-rate estate planning package includes a simple will, durable power of attorney, and healthcare directive (aka living will) to help you be prepared for an emergency. We will also provide you with specific resources and recommendations for any non-legal tools that will help you be prepared. To speak with our lawyer, call 314-722-8557 or click here to book a free phone consultation.