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What Makes ME Different?

I went to my son’s IEP (Individualized Educational Plan) Meeting at school to discuss his progress in 4th grade.  The team includes his teacher, a Special Education Teacher, a Speech/Language Pathologist, an Occupational Therapist, an Assistive Technology Facilitator and an Inclusion Specialist.  Aside from his teacher, my son has been with each of the other people since Kindergarten.  They have been extremely helpful in his educational and social development in the last five years.  I am very grateful to have them in my son’s life.  But what really sets them apart in my eyes is not their education, not their expertise, but their “bedside manner.”  They care about my son and his progress. They have many heartfelt stories of his “glows” and improvements.  They send me emails about things that my son has done or said that made them feel good, which of course makes me feel good. 

Today I told them I was just thinking back recently to my initial experience with the “special needs” world.  It started with his Early Intervention assessment meeting.  My son was 18 months old, and it was my mom who said to me, “I think there is something wrong, have him checked out.”  As a tired mom of two, I was actually very defensive and said, “Mom, you’re just overreacting. He is fine.”  But she insisted.  So I called the number and set up the meeting.  In my living room I had five professionals, rattling off questions, and observing my son.  After the hour, they each gave me a “verbal report” in technical language of how far behind he was in every area, fine motor skills, gross motor skills, verbal and non-verbal communications, social skills, etc.  Each of them treated my son like he was just this “specimen” or “lab rat” they were observing.  From my point of view, none of them felt like they were even talking about a human being, much less an 18 month old child.  When they left, I just burst into tears.

Thereafter, he participated in many therapy sessions, and by age 3, he attended a preschool for learning disabled children.  Once again, I was in front of an entire team of professionals discussing his progress during his two years of preschool.  Once again, I was incredibly disappointed in the team’s demeanor of treating my son like a “lab rat.” They rattled off their reports and recommendations in highly technical language, and not one of them mentioned anything remotely human.  Like, “he’s a joy to have in class…he’s great at this task.”  Every meeting was structured and robotic.

So today after my meeting with the wonderful team at my son’s elementary school, I realized something.  I am often asked, “What makes me different?” or “What is your competitive advantage?”  I realized that what makes me different is not quantifiable, is not analytical and is not logical.  What makes me different is that I care.  A lot.  I want to help my clients and their families and make them feel heard and understood.  I want to be there in times of sadness, of conflict, of frustration, of confusion and of course in times of happiness as well.  So instead of treating my clients in a clinical way by spouting off legal terms in a robotic way, I treat my clients like human beings, and listen to their life stories. I know you may think there are so many attorneys who say the same thing.  Well, yes, I’m certainly not the only attorney who has good “bedside” manner.  But in my general experience with all professionals, there really is only a small percentage who actually do have good “bedside” manner.

I share my story about my son because I have been on the receiving end of a team of good professionals and a team of not so good professionals.  I know for certain that I will always strive to be one of the “good professionals” in my clients’ lives, and their families’ lives in the future.

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There was a gentleman named “John” who walked into my office letting me know that his cousin’s condo needed to be sold.  His cousin, “Jane”, died the previous year and her condo was just sitting there empty.  Jane had no surviving spouse, children, parents or siblings.  John was a cousin on the maternal side of Jane’s family, and he only knew the names of eight family members on the maternal side.  So we opened a probate estate which was based on the laws of intestacy since Jane did not have any estate planning documents such as a Will or Living Trust.

The intestacy laws are basically everybody’s “default will” if they do not write down their own wishes.  In Illinois, it states that if you die with a surviving spouse and children, then half goes to spouse, half goes to children.  If you die with only a spouse or only children, then all of your estate will go to such party or parties.  If you die with neither, then it goes to your siblings and parents, in equal shares, and possibly to nieces and nephews if a sibling has predeceased you.  If you do not have any of those surviving family members, then we have to reach up to the maternal and paternal grandparents’ sides, and create a large family tree to figure out who is below, and to figure out the correct labels of these individuals such as “cousins twice removed.”

In Jane’s situation, we had to do the latter.  Within a week of filing the Petition in court, we received letters from two different attorneys, one representing the relatives under the paternal grandparents’ side which was about 30 additional beneficiaries, and the other attorney representing other relatives (who John did not know) from the maternal grandparents’ side which was an additional 25 beneficiaries.  So the grand total of potential beneficiaries “sticking out their hand” for the inheritance from Jane was about 63 people.

The condo was the only asset in the estate.  It sold for about $230,000.  In the end, everyone received a piece of the pie (or more like a sliver) and it took over five years to complete.

Needless to say, this all could have been avoided.  Had Jane signed a will stating her wishes, the probate estate would have been far less complicated and certainly less expensive.  Further, had Jane chosen to prepare a Living Trust and retitled her condo under the name of such trust, then the estate would not have had to go through the public forum of probate court, and the family members would have received the inheritance quickly and efficiently.  Do you have the “Default Will”?

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