|Catherine E. Sears, Esq.
Over the summer, I took the Virginia bar exam. I was terrified, of course – the bar is a two-day exam which covers an overwhelming number of complex topics. Only after passing the exam could I begin practicing the livelihood for which I have been training for the past three years. As if I was not already acutely aware of this, I received a notification from my student loan provider the day before the exam to remind me that my mountain of law school loans would be coming due soon. Needless to say, it was a stressful time.
Despite the high stakes and the mental exhaustion, however, I felt a remarkable sense of calm as I walked toward the testing center on the first day of the exam. This was due, in no small part, to my faith. However, I also attribute this peace of mind to the thoroughness with which I prepared for the exam. I had studied for 40+ hours per week for the past two-and-a-half months, ever since my law school graduation. I selected the most well-regarded test preparation program with the best reputation for success, and, according to the company’s metrics, I completed enough assignments within that program to become statistically more likely to pass. I had an amazingly supportive group of family and friends encouraging me along the way. I studied in a friendly environment with minimal distractions, and I avoided talking to other bar-preppers about their studying experience to keep myself from making comparisons that would hurt my self-esteem. All in all, I had done everything within my power to plan ahead and be prepared, which allowed me to face the unpleasantness of the exam with as much peace of mind as was possible.
I firmly believe that being prepared and staying calm in the face of a difficult situation go hand in hand. Unfortunately, we will all face stressful situations in our lives. Although only some people are crazy enough to subject themselves to the bar exam, we all must face our own mortality. Many of us will also need to cope with the decline of loved ones – our spouse, our parents, our siblings, or our friends.
Although I am still new to the field of estate planning, I have already heard countless stories from families about their experiences in caring for sick loved ones or in trying to sort through a family member’s affairs after death. Though their individual stories are different, they share a common theme: how much easier it is to face this difficult, emotionally-charged situation if the proper estate planning documents had been executed and a plan was in place. Recently, a client told me about how emotionally difficult it was to make medical decisions for her incapacitated father, who had left no guidance on the treatment he would have wanted. In addition to facing the sadness that comes with a loved one’s illness and death, this woman was forced to try to read her father’s mind and faced mental anguish over not knowing whether her dad would have approved of the medical decisions she was making on his behalf. To keep this stress from passing to her own children, the woman signed a health care power of attorney to give her kids not only the authority to make these difficult decisions, but also the guidance they will need to determine what decisions to make.
So much of life is unknown. After taking the bar exam, I had to wait three agonizing months to get the results, which gave me ample time to fear the unknown situations that the future brings and contemplate “worst case scenarios.” Instead of worrying about the stressful unknown, however, let us at The Peninsula Center help you make a plan to give you and your loved ones some much-needed peace of mind.
Finally, in case you’re curious, I recently learned that I passed the bar!! It just goes to show that working hard and making a plan can truly pay off.