Ashley Hawley had a life-changing event when she was 17 years old … and it eventually led her to a legal career.
Her father was involved in a terrible accident while she was a junior in high school.
“It was a horrendous experience for us all. We hired a personal injury attorney and it sparked an interest in me about doing something similar,” she said.
While her interest in personal injury law faded while in college, Hawley’s overall interest in a legal career did not. She began to focus on estate planning while in law school.
“It is rewarding to help people to plan and provide them with peace of mind,” said Hawley, an attorney with Ruder Ware in Wausau. “I am able to provide people with information and can also save them and their heirs money.”
As an estate planner, Hawley knows most clients are uncomfortable about discussions with her because “we’re talking about their death.”
She also works to dispel the myth that only the wealthy benefit from estate planning.
“It is something everyone should do,” she said. “If you do it you can avoid a bad outcome after your death.”
She said many people assume their family members will not disagree about anything after their death, but that is not reality. In addition, when someone dies without a will, the case goes to probate, which takes time and costs money, Hawley said.
For parents, they can use their will to designate who they want to raise their children if something happens to them. If they do not have a will, a judge will decide.
Estate planning involves more than just writing a will, adding she usually provides clients with documents for health care power of attorney, durable power of attorney, marital property agreements and a revocable trust.
“A lot of what I do is education. I tell them about how these documents will make it easier for their loved ones left behind,” she said. “I enjoy what I do and working with my clients. You get to know them and learn what’s important to them.”
Hawley advises her clients to update or review their estate planning documents every five to 10 years or so to make sure everything is still current.
“We also check in with our clients if laws change regarding taxes, for example,” she said. “The newest thing we are now including with our estate planning documents involves the client’s digital life and providing another person access to their digital assets, such as Facebook or other online accounts.”
Wisconsin Law Journal: What makes your work important to you?
Ashley Hawley: I’m a problem-solver and I am able to provide my clients with some peace of mind about what will happen for their loved ones after they are gone.
WLJ: Who is your hero in the legal field?
Hawley: That is a hard one. There are so many people who have helped me be the person I am today. I’ve had a lot of wonderful support from those around me.
WLJ: What do you do outside of work to deal with stress from the office?
Hawley: Spending time with my family. I have two children who are ages 5 and 6. I like to spend time with them, whether we are boating, camping and that sort of thing. It’s wonderful to see the world through their eyes.
WLJ: What’s one thing many people get wrong about what you do?
Hawley: People think you need to have a lot of money to have an estate plan, but that’s not true at all. Everyone benefits from one. Another thing people think is that since I’m attorney that I am in court everyday. That’s not true at all.
WLJ: What’s your favorite memory from law school?
Hawley: Working with the Women Law Center.
WLJ: Is there a certain case that stands out to you?
Hawley: The cases that stand out to me are the ones when no pre-planning was done and I get involved after the death. There are some horrendous situations. Those cases stand out to me because in my mind I think about how an estate plan could have avoided some of these problems.