Clients who start the estate planning process do so with the knowledge that they will die one day. This death awareness comes with some degree of death anxiety, as  well as anticipatory grief.

Clients may also have preconceived notions about lawyers; they may be concerned about cost. They may be unsure of what estate planning is and how to go about it. They are entering a legal environment that is unfamiliar to them. All of these factors create stress, anxiety and fear.

But in order for clients to be able to consider important matters — quality of life questions, exploring family relationships and establishing the plan to coordinate their assets with this understanding — clients must be as relaxed and calm as possible. Estate planning attorneys must not only create a physical environment conducive to this process, but we must also maintain a level of calm and comfort, so that the client can continue to give concentrated thought and effort to this task at hand. We must do our best in our interviewing, counseling and facilitating so as not to inadvertently and unnecessarily arouse defensiveness in a client.

As attorneys, we serve as counselors for our grieving clients to guide each of them through grief as they adapt to the loss and facilitate reentering into life in a meaningful way. But we are not therapists who need to delve into deep-seated issues, neuroses, psychosis, dysfunctions or pathologies in order to fix someone or something. As counselors, we want to address our clients’ daily concerns and issues. In Drs. Darcy Harris and Howard Winokuer’s “Principles and Practice of Grief Counseling,” they suggest that as counselors, we want to do the following:

• Help clients gain insight and perspective on their situation, behavior, emotions and relationships.
• Provide a safe place for clients to express feelings and clarify their thoughts.
• Offer a context for clients’ experiences within a broader perspective (e.g., within a family context, social and political structures, existential viewpoint).
• Enhance the development of clients’ skills in dealing with painful and distressing situations.
• Empower clients to become their own best advocates.
• Facilitate clients’ process of finding and making meaning in their experiences.

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