Vol. 82, No. 12, December 2009
State Bar Disability Insurance is an Asset, Plan Ahead for Crisis
I have been practicing law in Milwaukee since I graduated from the University of Illinois College of Law in 1998. I worked at two firms here in Milwaukee, and in 2005 opened my own practice. While we are not originally from Milwaukee, my husband and I and our children love Milwaukee, and I enjoy and am very gratified by my legal work here.
Two years ago, on Aug. 31, 2007, I was diagnosed with an inoperable tumor in my brain stem that doctors predicted would kill me. I was 34 years old. However, that was not the scary part. The scary part was that I was 7½ months pregnant with my third child and also had a 5 year old and 3 year old. Our lives were thrown into chaos.
To give you the Cliff Notes of the Reader’s Digest version of the story: before surgery that removed the tumor, I could not walk, could not speak clearly, could not understand even simple concepts, could not swallow without choking, and slept approximately 18 out of every 24 hours. Now, a mere two years later, I am miraculously well and am expected to live my full life expectancy. I am again running my law practice, taking care of my family, and participating in a myriad of community projects. My baby (born eight weeks premature) is a perfectly healthy, normal, mischievous toddler. In short, I have stopped counting the miracles with which I have been blessed.
I am writing to tell you of two miracles for which I am particularly grateful: 1) how privileged I am to be part of this amazing, caring, and conscientious group called the State Bar of Wisconsin; and 2) how grateful I am to have planned for such a crisis in advance (using tools made available by the Bar) – and how I hope my story will motivate others to do the same.
On the day I was diagnosed, my desk was covered with legal work. Because of my symptoms, I was struggling to maintain my practice and perform quality legal work for my wonderful clients. Given the nature and timing of the diagnosis, I had to drop everything in one moment, unable to call my clients or transition my work to other lawyers. That is when I realized what amazing colleagues I had.
My friends and former colleagues from Reinhart, Boerner, Van Deuren and from Kasdorf, Lewis & Swietlik, as well as Tom LaFave with whom I share my office, rallied around me. My files were distributed and clients called. Matters were completed efficiently and economically, so my clients paid similar fees as they would have paid for me. Court officials notified of my circumstances went out of their way to assist those who took on my clients’ matters. Everyone helped, without notice, without being compensated, and without being asked. Staff at the various offices gladly took care of the added administrative needs of my files. Tom LaFave and his staff continued to run my practice, manage my files, and pay my bills so that my practice was still intact when I finally returned to work. It was truly unbelievable.
I experienced personally, the power and compassion of the Bar and its members. I have never been more proud to be a member of such a group. So from the bottom of my heart – I would like to extend a thank you to all the attorneys, paralegals, court officials, and administrative staff members out there who pitch in or jump in when a colleague is in trouble and when clients need help. I know my story is one of many with such unsung heroes. It is wonderful.
The second part of my tale has to do with the fringe benefits the State Bar provides, which are so often overlooked. I have been an estate planning lawyer since I graduated from law school. Because of that experience, I knew the importance of planning before a crisis. And so, I looked into purchasing life insurance and disability insurance early in my career. While insurance policies were available elsewhere, many were prohibitively priced. In particular, when I priced disability policies for a woman my age, they were exorbitant, and beyond what I could afford as a sole proprietor. The policy I purchased through Bultman Financial (through the State Bar plan) was a tiny, tiny fraction of the cost of a typical disability policy, and yet was issued by a reputable company. The State Bar policy through Bultman Financial was my only practical choice for disability coverage and, in retrospect, turned out to be a godsend.
I continued to receive disability benefits until earlier this year. I cannot imagine what my family’s life would have been like without that insurance. Moreover, besides the actual insurance benefits, having the members of the Bultman Financial team behind me has been invaluable. They assisted in every step of the process: in dealing with my claim and negotiating and explaining terms to me and to the insurance company representatives, all while being very supportive and responsive to anything I needed. Bultman Financial is a tremendous asset to members of the Bar and I hope my story will motivate more young attorneys to use them to plan for crises before they occur.
Of course, as an estate planner, I must also urge everyone out there to have an estate plan prepared by a competent attorney. Estate planning law is not simply filling in blanks, and if you do not have it properly prepared, you are only hurting your loved ones. Make sure that your plan truly does distribute the property for which you worked all your life to those whom you love most. Do it. Don’t put it off. As my story proves, brain tumors (and other crises) happen!
Inna Pullin, Milwaukee