January 11, 2022
American Sign Language (ASL) is the primary language of the Deaf community and many other individuals who are hard of hearing. It is also used by some hearing people.
Among those is Phelan, Frantz, Ohlig & Wegbreit’s Gretchan Ohlig. Gretchan, a Partner at the firm, is the granddaughter of Deaf adults and her beloved grandparents were a huge presence in the years she was growing up.
“My mom’s parents were born deaf, and they had 3 hearing daughters,” says Gretchan. “ASL was my mom’s first language, and I grew up becoming a native user.”
Deaf, not Disabled
The Deaf Community is small and proud and does not perceive itself as “disabled.” Using the word disabled suggests the idea of “less than” and implies that the Deaf culture is lacking something. Removing that label eliminates any stigma that may be attached to it.
“In Deaf culture, Deafness is embraced. It is not considered an impairment,” says Gretchan. That sentiment echoes her philosophy. For people in the Deaf community, being Deaf is part of who they are. “They believe that there is nothing to be fixed,” Gretchan says.
Despite this pride and because of it, it is often necessary for hearing professionals who are fluent in ASL to serve members of the Deaf community by helping them fulfill their wishes in certain areas of life. Estate Planning is one of those areas.
“That is why it is such a privilege for me to help members of the Deaf community who turn to our firm for estate planning services,” Gretchan says.
Unique Legacy Requirements
She explains that within the Deaf community there is often fluidity in family connections. “Family lines are often blurred, and non-blood relatives are sometimes considered family.”
It is often important that an individual’s property stays within the community. That is why precise communication between Deaf individuals and their estate attorneys is imperative so that an estate plan that completely fulfills their needs is put in place.
“There can be no gray areas left to the attorney’s interpretation,” says Gretchan.
That help includes explaining complicated legal ideas to them in their language so they will feel confident in the plan we develop with and for them.
Understanding the perspective of Deaf adults is often difficult for hearing individuals because so much of their communication with one another depends upon their ability to hear. Still, some advocates speak about Deaf gain as a communication advantage afforded to those who must use means other than verbal language. The belief behind Deaf gain is that Deaf people have more meaningful and intentional connection because they cannot hear.
It is a wonderful way of looking at the world—one which Gretchan understands and respects because of the deep relationships she had with her grandparents.
With Gratitude to Pay It Forward
“They did so much for me when I was growing up,” she says. “Today I have an opportunity to give back and pay it forward through my work.”
That sense of service to our clients is what inspires our work at Phelan, Frantz, Ohlig & Wegbreit, LLC, and we are proud to be able to effectively assist individuals within the Deaf community who come to us for estate planning services.
Call us at 908-232- 2244 and experience the peace of mind of knowing we can help you create an estate plan customized to your specific wishes and unique needs.