One of my earliest memories as a child was going with my mother to the Red Cross, where she regularly donated blood.  When I asked her, “Why do you always let them stick a needle in your arm?” Mother would always reply, “Because this will help save a life”. There is hardly a day that goes by that I do not think about her and the life lessons she taught me. She told me that giving blood was the one thing that anyone could do to give back, regardless of how much (or in our case, how little) money they had. That wisdom had a profound effect on me and it’s something I remember to this day.

You see, I come from very humble beginnings. While my mother was a very kind, loving, and generous woman, she struggled financially for much of her life. She endured hard, physical labor to keep food on our table and sometimes that still wasn’t enough. Providing for small children proved to be more than she could handle, so from the time I was nine years old, I was raised by my Grandmother.

I learned early on that the key to financial independence is education. Born to parents who never finished high school, I was determined to follow a different path. So, while my mother was a positive influence on me when it came to giving back, she was also an “unknowing” influence on me when it came to understanding what I wanted for myself.  More importantly, I learned what I didn’t want my life to be.  As a result, I worked full time and carried a heavy subject load all the way through college. One of my first jobs as a university student was working for a law firm where they offered tuition reimbursement based on grades. This encouraged me to work even harder in my classes, even earning partial scholarships for graduate school. As I began my career in estate planning and probate, I had found my passion – helping individuals and families to be in control of their healthcare and to protect their legacies.

In 2006, my mother was diagnosed with cancer. As expected, this became a devastating and emotional time for everyone involved. I was soon faced with the challenge of having to care for an ailing parent from two states away. Not only was I grateful to have the financial means (A big thank you goes to my husband for his love and support during that time. He never once complained about the money we were spending to support Mother.) to help her, but also the knowledge and expertise to help navigate through the healthcare and legal systems. With newly implemented HIPAA rules, it was critical that legal documents were in place for me to act as her healthcare surrogate and power of attorney. My mother and I had the tough conversations about Living Wills and end-of-life decisions to insure her final wishes would be honored. Even though her estate was not large, we were able to ease the burden of having to go through a lengthy and expensive probate process during a very emotionally charged time for our family.

Since her passing, I have made it part of my life’s mission to help educate and inform others about the importance of end of life decisions and how to protect your legacy. If you just counted dollars, my mother wasn’t a wealthy woman, but she still left behind an incredible legacy. Just like you, she had specific wishes about her path through the end of her life. She loved her children and wanted what little she had to be shared with them in the way she intended.

My mother gave me so many gifts during her life, but what she taught me – in living and in dying – was priceless. I learned that with hard work and determination I could accomplish anything I set my mind to. She taught me the value of a good education and the impact it could have on my future. Most importantly, she taught me that you don’t have to be “rich in dollars” to give back. Giving of yourself, your time, and your experiences can be the best legacy of all.

As a mother myself (my daughter is 10 years old), I struggle sometimes to find ways to instill in her a sense of charity and giving back.  In this day and age, how do you give your child “a better life than you had”, and yet raise them to be grateful? I strive every day to share my mother’s sense of giving with my daughter, and hope that I am continuing her legacy for our family’s next generation.