Wednesday, September 23, 2015

"Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story."

Oh my goodness, how I needed to chant this to myself today. Over, and over, and over.

I am an attorney by day. I advise people about their estate plans and help them set up wills, trusts, powers of attorney, and other such goodies. When I was in law school, I took as many estate planning courses as I could fit into my schedule. When I graduated, I sought out positions that would let me practice in this particular area as much as possible. When I started building my career in this area, I took as many continuing education classes as I could in that particular area, and have continued to do so. I've now practiced in this area for 4 years. In that 4 years, I've done dozens and dozens of estate plans - I'm probably approaching about 100 by now.

And yet, today, I was confronted by someone who felt that these things did not qualify me to advise her about her estate plan. Who informed me that I was a bully and that I was wrong about her estate plan, and accused me of misleading her into the wrong estate plan. She even said I didn't know what I was talking about, that banks had access to people's private trusts, and that they named their personal successor trustees as defendants in their foreclosure lawsuits, even if those successor trustees had never been named in any records the bank had on file.

Am I really a bully?
When I received this phone call, my heart dropped into my stomach. My blood went cold, I could not catch my breath, and I felt the injustice of her accusations well up in my throat. Me? A bully? Banks accessing private documents out of thin air and suing people? Was it possible I was wrong about everything?

"I've seen it. They are named in the newspapers," the woman informed me wisely.

Then I remembered my brief foray into foreclosure law. Where banks had been consolidated in the credit crisis, acting as trustees for now dissolved institutions, and often appeared as "successor trustees" in lawsuit captions. Oh, how this woman had been misled - how she truly did not understand what she was reading in those newspapers. Oh, how she was misdirecting her anger at her housing struggles at me.

"I've had bad luck with trusts before, and I didn't want one, and you're making me do one," she told me. "I wanted wills, I said I wanted wills, and you made me do a trust instead."

All I could do for a while was listen to her volley of accusations, my mouth hanging open. This person on the phone was completely the opposite of the person I had spoken to just a few weeks ago in my office. And she was accusing me of being the exact opposite of how I knew I was when I was doing a consultation. Me? A bully? I was a humble but passionate attorney. I love my work. I tell terrible jokes that get clients to crack a smile as we are casually discussing what should happen to their assets in the event of their demise.

I let her talk. I admit, to my shame, that I interrupted a few times - there were so many things about which she was so wrong, so misinformed, that my years of education wanted to scream at her, "You are wrong! You do not know these things! I do, I'm an attorney! I do this all day, for a living!" But I did keep my temper, as I tremulously tried to explain these legal concepts about which she had gotten so tangled in a web of misinformation. I did keep my composure. Unfortunately, I could not battle the ignorance that had somehow wormed its way into my client's brain. I still wonder where she was fed this information. But, I know that people get their legal advice from just about everyone these days. Forget the attorney you've paid hundreds of dollars to take care of matters for you - clearly, your neighbor is much more qualified to give you legal advice about your estate.

In the end, we reached a resolution - in a way that truly, was less than ideal for her real situation, but at least gave her better peace of mind. In the end, I let this dull and ignorant person speak, and tell her story. In the end, I felt sorry for her - she had struggled financially for so long in the housing crisis, that she no longer knew where to direct her anger and anxiety. If yelling at me helped her cope in some way, then I hope it did some good. It doesn't lessen the effect it had on me - I take things very personally, and her attack was personal, at first, before we were able to drill down to the heart of the matter. It doesn't lessen the indignation over the fact that some person, somewhere, was able to misinform my client in such a credible way that she decided to believe him/her instead of me.

But, in the end, I did speak my truth, and I listened to her story, and hopefully we can both reach some level of peace by the time we are done with each other.

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