Advice & Features Articles

“I Had No Idea”

Why Keeping Disabilities a Secret from your Attorney is a Bad Idea

by Colin Smith | Contributor

One of the best things about being a lawyer is meeting a client for the first time. Before that initial meeting, I remind myself of two universal truths. Number one: there is no such thing as a normal family. The Simpsons exist in real life.  The Cleavers do not. The second rule is almost the same: NEVER judge a book by its cover.

My law practice covers estate planning and Social Security Disability, which overlap more than people realize.  The more open my clients are with me, the more I can help them plan for the known and unknown.  Disabilities do affect estate plans.  We can handle both kinds of disabilities—those that are inevitable and those that are brought on by some unfortunate event.

Most people (including me!) try to hide their disabilities.  From a lifetime of practice, I know that doing so avoids prejudices, stereotypes and embarrassment and gets us closer to that image of the perfect Dallasite. I’m hearing impaired, but some people think I have a European accent. (I have to confess: I’ve had fun with that assumption over the years.)  Yet, for estate planning purposes if I know what someone’s disability is, I can work around it.

Once I discover someone is disabled, I need to know the circumstances.  The “whys” come in three general flavors:

1. Accident (car accident, elderly person has fallen, freak accident, etc.)

2. Hereditary (mental conditions, dementia, Alzheimer’s)

3. Other medical reason (contracted some type of disease, birth defect, etc.)

The category is important because I can legally plan for the hereditary ones, possibly over multiple generations.  I can also manage the ones that have already occurred for estate planning purposes and plan generally for all others.

It’s a good idea to address all possible, present and future disabilities in estate planning.  We need to specify our wishes while we are mentally able to do so.  At the same time, we can generally plan for the things that may befall us.

It’s hard to think about these things because it makes us realize we may not get the future we hope to have. The thoughts are unpleasant, and that’s why a lot of people procrastinate. But there is relief. Another one of the best experiences I have as a lawyer is seeing my clients’ relief when they realize everything is accounted for and in order.

Editor’s Note: Colin Smith practices law with a focus on estate planning and Social Security Disability. He is no stranger to the challenges of disability. He lost most of his hearing to spinal meningitis as a small child and lost the rest of it while completing his undergraduate studies at The University of Texas. After two years of silence, he was able to hear again with the help of a cochlear implant. He looks forward to your phone call, and he’ll turn off his music when he hears the phone ring. Reach him at 972.773.9095. ColinSmithLaw.com

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