Clinical and Pro Bono Programs

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Tag: Estate Planning Project of the Veterans Legal Clinic

Empowering clients through the Estate Planning Project

By Stephanie Jimenez, J.D. ’17

One of my most valuable experiences at Harvard Law School has been working with the Estate Planning Project in the Veterans Legal Clinic. As a student attorney, my responsibilities included preparing for client meetings, interviewing clients, drafting documents, and preparing documents for execution. Along with all this, I constantly worked with the supervising attorney, Tamara Kolz-Griffin, to spot any potential issues and brainstorm solutions for the clients.

Estate Planning Project of the Veterans Legal Clinic

Stephanie Jimenez, J.D. ’17

There are several reasons why I enjoyed this clinic. First, it was a great way to gain experience in building relationships with clients. Because I worked with such personal information, I got to know my clients really well. Secondly, much of my work required discussions about death and incapacity and this helped me learn how to hold difficult conversations. Also, I was assigned cases that were in varied stages: some were at the beginning stages so I had to conduct intake interviews with the veterans, while some were already at the drafting documents stage. I liked this because in one semester I saw how the process works from beginning to end and I gained new skills in managing and prioritizing my cases.

Finally, I learned so much about estate planning even though I had very little previous experience. The documents we drafted included wills, trusts, durable powers of attorney, healthcare proxies, living wills, and declarations as to remains. One of the most interesting documents I drafted is the Supplemental Needs Trust. This is a trust that clients can put in place to protect their loved ones who receive government benefits. If they want to leave assets to that loved one, they can put the assets into the trust instead of giving them directly to the individual, ensuring that their loved ones receive the much-needed government benefits.

Estate planning requires a lot of thinking about what could happen with each possible decision that the client makes and thinking of ways to have the best possible outcome. For me, it is really great work to do because clients leave feeling empowered that they have control over their lives during difficult times.

A reflection on my semester with the Estate Planning Project

Travis Leverett, J.D. ’17 

This past September, I enrolled in the Estate Planning Project, with the Veteran’s Legal Clinic. My work with that clinic turned out to be one of the most valuable, and absolutely the most rewarding experience of my academic career.

I was motivated to work with veterans largely thanks to my grandfather. He was an incredible influence in my life, and I was hopeful that I would meet and help people, like him, who sacrificed for my freedom, and now needed legal services that they likely could not find elsewhere. I was immediately attracted to the Estate Planning Project, which offered the opportunity to work closely with clients as they made important, and often difficult decisions. I have heard the phrase ‘counselor’ used my entire life to describe attorneys, but it wasn’t until working with the Estate Planning Project that I fully understood how true that description could be.

The learning curve was steep, as my two colleagues and I had to digest the substantive law behind the estate planning process, and begin moving cases forward within one semester. I was assigned a total of around 12 cases for the semester, which at times felt like about 11 too many, but I learned techniques to better balance a high volume of cases. Those practical skills will absolutely make me a better lawyer, and could only have been developed through clinical work.

As I reflect on my semester with the Estate Planning Project, one client will always stick with me. He was an older gentleman, who was looking to have fairly standard estate planning documents prepared. As we sat together at a small conference table in Jamaica Plain, he told me about his career, his children, his wife of 50+ years, and of the worries he felt for the future. I asked difficult questions, but tried to do so in a way that made him as comfortable as possible. Following our meeting, I called my client weekly to check in, and clarify some of his wishes, developing an exceptional relationship in the process. When the Legal Services Center’s work with this client is complete, I am confident that he will have received world-class estate planning, but equally important, I believe that man will feel empowered, respected, and at peace when he signs his documents, and leaves the LSC for the last time. He sure deserves to.