Under Santa Fe Skies

by Susan Tungate

Ellen Goodman: The Conversation Project

When I opened my law office here under Santa Fe skies, my intention was to focus solely on business and entertainment law. Then my friends Estelle and Marie asked, “Will you be doing Wills and healthcare directives? We don’t have them.” They were in their late seventies. “No,” I said, “I have avoided trusts and estates like the plague. The firm I first worked at as a lawyer stuck all the women lawyers in the trusts and estate section.”

But I was horrified, so as a result I learned everything I could about estate planning, and they were my first clients. I focused on business law as well, but I learned the most about people through working with them on their estate documents. The discussions concerning the disposition of property or the power of attorney over economic matters are matter of fact. When we come to the Disposition of Remains, things start to get real. There is no escaping we are talking about their death.

Then we hit  the healthcare directive which deals both with the client’s wishes with regard to care when they are expected to live as well as their end of life wishes. I ask specific questions of them: Organ donor?  One client responded he wanted “to go to med school,” and I thought his wife would kill him then and there. Your wish if you are in a coma? Food tube? Water? Tough stuff most have never considered and would rather avoid, but I continue.

When all the documents are signed and the client tells me he now feels like a grown up, I tell him to have a discussion with his agents as well as family members concerning end of life wishes so everyone hears it from him. The written document provides the legal authority. The person’s words provide comfort and certainty as the difficult decisions are made.

I was pleased to read award winning journalist Ellen Goodman recently established The Conversation Project to promote those very discussions. The website includes a Starter Kit with a questionnaire you answer before you have the conversation with loved ones. I suggest you pick a beautiful blue sky day to have that discussion. Then pile in the car or go for a walk and stop for ice cream, just because you can.

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