As an attorney for over twenty years, much of the time in Trust and Estate work, I have counseled and helped scores of clients, mostly widowed women through the estate planning and administration processes. I am known as the “kitchen table lawyer” because I personally go to the client. I meet people in their own homes, care facility, hospital or wherever is necessary to provide professional and caring services.
Widow’s Key evolved, not only from years of assisting widows as their attorney, but from my own personal life experiences of caring for my terminally ill father and losing several loved ones. Whether it was because of birth order or that I was perceived as the “organized one”, when various members of my family or circle of close friends were incapacitated or died, others looked to me to take the lead.
At first, I did not have a clue of where to turn or how to start taking care of their affairs or estates. One of the biggest challenges was when my aunt and uncle died together in a private plane crash. I had to struggle through waiting for the mountain search and rescue, morgue visit, double funeral, clearing the personal items out and then there was a long probate. This was all before I attended law school. Going through this situation and other loved ones’ deaths was one of my motivations to go to law school.
My legal education and career did not start until my forties. The same week I turned forty, I started law school. I was a single mother of two elementary school children, stepping out in faith. I believed that if I could just be accepted at an accredited law school and start classes that somehow the mental discipline for scholastics and financial assistance would serendipitously happen.
Once in school, there was a mantra-like phrase I would repeat to myself, “Five, yes; six, no”, meaning that if I slept five hours a night I would pass, if I slept six hours a night I would not pass. Pressed for time, I read case law instead of fairy tales to my sweet five-year old daughter at bedtime. She thought this was normal and that all kids understood contracts, torts and constitutional law concepts. One day while waiting in the law school student lounge for me to get out of class, my daughter overheard some first year law students taking about cases. After a while, she marched her five-year old self over, putting both hands on her hips and declared, “Oh, for goodness sakes, those questions are such basic contract law. Haven’t any of you ever heard of Pennoyer vs. Neff or the long arm statute?” Incredulously, the students went back to their readings in earnest, knowing that if a child could grasp this legal stuff, so could they.
Upon hearing about this incident from the other students, I realized that if law was de-mystified and put into layman’s terms, like I had done nightly for my daughter Kate, it would serve everyone better and create more order, reduce stress and make for less litigation in our already chaotic world. As Justice Berger tells attorneys, “We are the healers of conflict.” As a supplement to my legal studies, I doubled up on some classes and also received certification in alternative dispute resolution. Additional mediation, arbitration and negotiation skills have been invaluable tools in practice and in life. I attended a summer session at the East China Institute of Politics and Law in Shanghai to study tried and true mediation techniques. This was part of my comprehensive plan to be of service to others from all walks of life and cultures.
The interest in international cultures, ways of organizing societies, and others’ rules and laws have always fascinated me. That is part of the reason I obtained a Bachelor of Arts and Masters degree in Anthropology and Archaeology. I was fortunate to find fulfilling work in museums and on archaeological sites in the United States and other countries. You will probably notice references and comparisons to the way other cultures and religions deal with widowhood throughout Widow’s Key. That is because all people, especially women, are intertwined and have so much to learn from each other.
I wanted to learn as much as I could about all kinds of laws, so that I would never again be in that helpless state of confusion when life’s inevitable storms confront me. Life’s hard lessons and law school made it very clear to me how the layers of laws affect everyone on a daily basis. When we use a credit card to purchase, buy or sell property, get married or gat a divorce, go to work, travel, raise children, make investments, pay taxes, employ contractors, drive a car, run a business or upon the loss of a loved one, the law regulates and controls all these life activities and more.
We are at a considerable disadvantage if we do not understand the basics of how law governs our rights and responsibilities. Therefore, I pledged to use my education to research and write good laws; laws that were simple and clear enough to understand and follow. My first jobs after law school were at the Oregon State Legislature as a legislative assistant and then as a committee administrator, coordinating hearings and proposing well-drafted concise legislation. There are few experiences more rewarding than seeing an idea through the process to become law. When not practicing estate law, I have served as executive director of non-profit associations seeing their legislative and regulatory issues through the system. My passion has always been to help others understand the process and find their way from widowhood to selfhood.