“Horse sense is the thing the horse has that keeps it from betting on people.”
— W.C. Fields
“Those who labour in the Earth are the chosen people of God, if ever he had a chosen people.”
— Thomas Jefferson
It’s fair week, and whether you love the food, the rides, the 4-H projects or the horse races, the next week will have something special for you. I’m going to get two chances to practice my profession during the fair, once as a judge for the rabbit and poultry costume contest (an absolute joy on my calendar each of the past several years), and once as a presenter for the Good Deeds program presented by County Recorder Melissa Jordan, County Clerk of Courts Natalie Fravel and myself.
We first presented the Delaware County version of the Good Deeds program in the summer of 2019 and the first offering, which we expected would draw about 50 people, drew 250 instead. Over the next several months, we offered the program at local high schools, with the intention of continuing offerings throughout 2020. But the pandemic put those presentations on hold. Now, we’re ready to bring the program back during the fair.
So, what is the Good Deeds program? Good Deeds is a general overview of what our offices do, and an explanation of broad concepts that can ease the probate process when a loved one passes. Recorder Jordan speaks to the process by which deeds are recorded and located. This allows folks to locate documents that they might not have reviewed in decades. And it allows me to encourage them to look at the language of those deeds to see if they contain joint survivorship terms, a transfer on death designation, or perhaps a transfer to a trust.
Second, the program allows us to encourage folks to move past the uncomfortable feeling that comes from thinking about our own mortality, and to be purposeful about estate planning — including drafting a will and meeting with an estate planning expert. The program also allows me to talk about general estate concepts and about the probate process.
Third, Clerk Fravel talks about survivorship designations on car, boat, RV, watercraft and mobile home titles. Finally, Recorder Jordan reviews her office’s programs for military veterans, and informs those in attendance that her office provides a free program that will notify you if someone files a lien or other document in relation to your property (a program that you can sign up for on her website).
The entire presentation takes between 30 and 60 minutes and will be held outdoors on the stage this Sunday, Sept. 19 at 1:30 p.m. None of the officeholders are permitted to give individual legal advice, but fortunately, there are many wonderful lawyers adept in estate planning in Delaware County who can assist those who have lingering questions or concerns, who need to tackle their estate plans, redraft property deeds, or re-title vehicles.
We were simply blown away by the attendance at the program and the response of those who came back in 2019, and we were thrilled to see so many people take an active role in learning about the process. We hope to stage the program several more times in the future, and to do so again in several places around the county. In the meantime, the single most important thing you can do is simply take the time to plan — to make sure that you have a current will, and to review your estate plans with your loved ones so that they can locate important documents.
The few moments you take to do that now will be a huge gift to your loved ones after you are gone.
David Hejmanowski is judge of the Probate/Juvenile Division of the Delaware County Court of Common Pleas, where he has served as magistrate, court administrator, and now judge, since 2003. He has written a weekly column on law and history for The Gazette since 2005.