Trusts and Estates Archives

December 30, 2010

A Survivor's Story: Applying the Law Offers Comfort, Relief to Client

By James P. Murphy, Esq.

One of my finest hours of practice occurred many years ago when I was just out of law school. An elderly lady came to the office one day requesting one of the first wills I had ever done. She was tearful and anxious. She was suffering from terminal cancer and had only a short time to live. But the main source of her anxiety was her extreme fear of burial.

She had once experienced the sight of a loved one's grave in a cemetery that was partially flooded. The sight was very disturbing to her. Her objective was to avoid burial, and to be cremated, which was contrary to her family's wishes. I contacted my former Trusts and Estates professor at Albany Law School. He referred me to section 1-2.18 of the EPTL Law, containing the definition of "Will", for authority to fulfill my client's wishes. He suggested I do a one sentence testamentary clause: "It is my wish at the time of my death, to be cremated, and not to be buried."

When the lady returned to sign and pick up her will she expressed the most joy and relief of any client that I have ever provided services for. She then went on to tell me some of her history as a Holocaust survivor. She and her husband and small infant were fleeing the Nazis in Poland during the war on a cold and snowy winter's day. In desperation, the family were about to enter a forest to hide from their pursuers. They decided to kneel and pray for their safety and survival before entering. When their prayers were completed, they proceeded toward the forest. They then heard the hoof beats of a horse and rider just as they were about to depart. The horseman approached them. He was a kind man who advised them that their infant son would not survive the bitter winter weather if they went into the forest. He told them that he was the owner of a large stable, and he would provide them with a refuge and shelter in exchange for their work for the duration of the war.

He did so and the family survived as a result of that wonderful gesture. My client's problem in making her will seemed quite trivial in comparison to what she had endured in surviving the Holocaust. But, having the privilege of providing her some peace of mind in her final days, made me very proud of my profession that day.

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