On a typical Saturday night, you'll find Kristen Lewis and her husband hanging out at the Canine Assistants training campus, caring for golden-haired puppies destined to become members of the Children's Healthcare of Atlanta Canines for Kids team.
This animal assisted therapy program helps ease patient anxiety and promotes shorter recovery times. "Scooping puppy poop makes for one wild and crazy Saturday night," Kristen jokes.
Kristen developed a passion for working with puppies at Canine Assistants ever since she and her daughter, Savannah, discovered the nonprofit that trains these very special service dogs back in the early '90s. But Kristen's passion for helping the families of children with disabilities has spanned more than three decades.
Kristen is an estate attorney in Buckhead who is an expert in special-needs estate planning. She has dedicated her entire professional career to helping families secure the future of loved ones with special needs. "I don't have a family member with a disability like many others who do this work," she says. "But when I was first introduced to specialneeds planning, it was a total 'God moment' for me. It's very complicated, but very rewarding, work."
Special-needs planning is an emerging area of the law that allows a family to establish a network of special needs trusts for their child with a disability. This ensures the child has the resources he or she needs to receive necessary medical and supportive care while also preserving the child's eligibility for applicable government programs for as long as this support is required.
With the rate of diagnoses on the rise for conditions like autism spectrum disorder (ASD), Kristen says the demand for this type of legal assistance is increasing, yet there are not enough attorneys specially trained in the field. She hopes to change that, and gives talks throughout the nation to share her knowledge with others. "I consider it my mission to educate the next generation of specialneeds planning attorneys," she says.
Part of Kristen's personal mission is using her legal expertise to inform others about the value and benefits of philanthropy, and supporting causes and organizations that matter to them. When Children's is part of that mix, it is even better. She serves on the 20-member Leadership Council of the Children's Legacy Advisors Program, a group of more than 140 attorneys, CPAs, wealth managers, insurance professionals and others who assist and advise clients wishing to leave a portion or all of their estate to a philanthropic cause.
"As professionals, we are proficient in our specialty, but we also have to go deeper than that to discover our clients' passion for charity," says Kristen. "We have a responsibility to raise the issue: What do you want your legacy to be? The Leadership Council has quarterly meetings to engage the full roster of legacy advisors, reminding them that Children's is here providing incredible care to our children."
While it's not a warm and fuzzy puppy nuzzle, this volunteer role is just as important and fulfilling for Kristen. "Helping clients secure the future of Children's is rewarding," Kristen adds. "No one can argue that children are our future. Even for those who don't have kids—or maybe especially for those people—this is something they can support as part of their estate planning legacy.
Charitable planned giving will help ensure that Children's operates far into the future, long after they're gone." Sometimes the stars align and all of Kristen's efforts converge. "It's such a thrill when my clients with medically fragile children get wonderful care at Children's and then decide to support Children's with a legacy gift," she says. "All of my passions come together, especially when there's a Canines for Kids dog involved."
Learn how you can make us a part of your legacy by contacting Mary L. McCormack at 404-785-9481 or Cell: 706-540-2885 or email@example.com.