Where There’s a Will: A young lawyer’s perspective
by Matthew Crouch
It seems too hot to be thinking about Christmas, snow and Colorado winters. However, my mind drifts back to Dec. 22, 2005. I was walking from my building after the office Christmas party. I had said my holiday goodbyes to co-workers and was heading out to enjoy a few days off. As I was walking out, I passed the building security guard, John, and exchanged seasonal well-wishes and plans. I didn’t give it a second thought, as we often exchanged pleasantries, bad jokes, personal anecdotes, other bits of accrued wisdom and politeness. John told me that he was going to visit his grandchildren in Minnesota for the holidays. It never occurred to me that that was the last time I would see him.
On Dec. 26, I came back to the office and discovered that John had passed away in his sleep on the 22nd. I thought about this and had one of those "wow, now what happens?" moments. The inevitable "thinking like a lawyer" training from law school came into play. I knew that John had a will and I hoped that his family was coping, but it made me think that many of us don’t actually take the time to prepare a legal document that could save our families additional heartache. How many people don’t have a will? Do all lawyers have wills? As attorneys, people have us prepare the same document for them that many of us neglect to have for ourselves.
Most lawyers and support staff could draw up a will without too much time or trouble, yet I know many of us can’t seem to find the time to prepare one for ourselves. Finding time may be tough, but consider taking time out from lunch daily for two weeks to write a will, or use an evening and have everything prepared. Some law firms have taken a company-wide approach. Firms like mine have offered to prepare a basic will, a living will, a health care power of attorney and a general power of attorney for every employee who has been with the firm for longer than 90 days.
"Where there is a will, there is a way." This age-old saying can be applied to lawyers. We’re all capable of drafting a will, and most of us have done so, as an assignment in law school, as part of the MPT, or in practice. A will can be a single document containing the instructions regarding the final wishes of decedent. Properly signed by the testator with two witnesses and notarized, wills can be very straight forward. A power of attorney (medical, general, durable or not), declaration of disposition of last remains, and medical directives can be included.
The resources available to create a will are boundless. Bradford Publishing (http://www.bradfordpublishing.com) offers Colorado-specific fill-in-the-blank will forms, kits for multiple wills, and power of attorney and living will forms. Major office supply and legal stationary stores often have general forms for basic wills and related documents, though not usually state specific. The Colorado Bar Association has brochures under the "For the Public" section of its website, http://www.cobar.org, that provide an overview. Also, the CBA website offers more detailed and practice-oriented publications, including "The Green Book," for statutory and court guidance in probate matters, and "The Orange Book," a compilation of estate planning and practice forms for use in Colorado.
What you put in your will is personal. Simple considerations include whether medical directives, including life
John made sure that his will fit his personal, religious, and family needs and concerns. I miss John. I miss laughing at his bad jokes, talking with him about his grandchildren and hearing his opinion on how the Rockies were playing. I imagine his family is cherishing memories like this instead of worrying about problems that would have been created if John hadn’t taken simple steps to prepare for his death. John took these steps. I am doing this, and hope that you will take a moment and do the same for your family, friends, clients, co-workers, and yourself, as well.
Matthew Crouch is an attorney with Riggs, Abney, Neal, Turpen, Orbison & Lewis. He can be reached at MCrouch@riggsabney.com.