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.
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.