When Virginia Stanton Smith passed away recently, many of us were very saddened. She left a legacy of giving and extraordinary philanthropy. The Chartocks were among her clients. Each of us must prepare for our own ending and the whole idea is to find someone who can help you figure out what will be done with what you have when your time comes. I know that Ginger’s legal prowess extended far beyond helping people like my family to figure out what we had to do to prepare for the inevitable end. We just remember the good advice that she gave us when we sat with her. Her decency came through and she was stunningly honest about the do’s and don’ts of estate planning. I particularly remember her advice about those policies that assure you that when you lose it, you will be cared for. Those policies cost a fortune. She patiently explained that she had to chase some of these purveyors to pay off when they were needed. That’s why you need good lawyers who give a damn about their clients. You don’t have to always follow their advice, but it’s good to hear the yin and the yang.
Virginia served on so many boards and did so much philanthropic work that you could only wonder how she found time for her practice. Carmi Rapport, who preceded her as chair of the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation, said that she was a superb chair of that important organization. Just before her passing, she wrote all of us letters saying basically that she was on her way out. It was a brave and decent thing to do and, never having seen such a thing before, I wrote her a note and asked her permission to write a column about her. She wrote back and said that she’d prefer that I waited until after her death. So now I write.
The prospect of death is handled differently by each of us. Some people panic, some people get depressed, some people bargain with God, while still others just get it: death is a part of life. Ginger seemed to get it. She had a great deal to live for: daughters who she was so proud of, a loving husband who she travelled the world with, and all of her many clients who were deeply indebted to her for clearly caring about us. Obviously, it never occurred to us that she might go before we did. You just never know.
The Chartocks are pretty simple people. We are proud of our kids and their kids. We want them to have a good life and we try our best to give a little to a lot of organizations that we care about. There are, however, people who have a lot of money and assets, and really good lawyers are expected to help them figure out what to do when they go. I know that, in some cases, it takes years to get to all straightened out.
There are some in this country who think that no one should inherit money. “Let them work for it,” say many of the self-styled egalitarians. They may be conceptually right, but there is something that keeps us all going and one part is the right to pass on what we have earned to those we love and respect.
So the lawyers and financial experts who are helping us plan our futures have a lot of influence. I can’t tell you the number of people who remembered WAMC in their estate planning, but never gave a penny to us during their lives. It often comes down to people like Virginia Stanton Smith, who made the recommendation to give. There are a lot of reasons for mourning the passing of Ginger ,but the best one is that she was a good, decent, and loving person.