Q&A: Marsha S. Wilson, Executive Director of the Knoxville Bar Association

Executive director for the Knoxville Bar Association, Marsha S. Wilson is lead planner for its free Community Law School sessions March 7 and 8 on the topics of "Estate Planning for Everyone" and "Consumer Rights and Responsibilities."

What's the most important thing to know about this Community Law School?

I think everyone should ask themselves, "What would happen if I can't take care of myself?" It's not an easy question but having the documents in place to take care of your medical and financial needs will only make things easier on your loved ones. Making a will is especially important for people with young children, because it is important to make plans for who will serve as their guardian. Terry Schiavo did not set out to become a national symbol for failing to plan for the worst-case scenario, but she did. For years, Schiavo's husband and parents battled over whether to disconnect her from her feeding tube. In the end, her husband prevailed in court and Schiavo died two weeks later, in March 2005. Unfortunately, many of our names could have been in those headlines instead of Schiavo's. Many Tennesseans think they've already made their plans known, but they don't know that because of recent changes in the law, their old living wills may not be adequate. The more information people have about these topics, the better they will be able to plan and implement decisions for themselves and their loved ones.

What's the focus of the CLS overall?

We're reaching those in our community who have not typically availed themselves of legal assistance with "preventative consumerism" subjects that help those in our community avoid frauds and schemes, address credit and debt concerns, and make adequate arrangements in case of death or disability. While the economy is showing some signs of improvement, unemployment is still high, home foreclosures are still widespread, and the increasing price of fuel and energy are making it difficult for consumers to pay their bills. Topics like debt, mortgage foreclosures, and wills and advance directives are never easy to think about or discuss. Good advance planning for financial and health care decisions is, in reality, a continuing conversation—about values, priorities, the meaning of one's life, and quality of life. The CLS has served close to 6,000 graduates over the past 19 years.

If you're skeptical of the legal system, can the CLS help?

For most people, today's law is a jumble of legal statutes and court rulings, and can lead to much frustration and many questions for anyone trying to understand it. The CLS is intended to provide unbiased information on the topics presented, and includes forms that can be utilized by the public. Volunteer local attorneys will be teaching the courses and will be available to answer questions from attendees.

Why does the KBA offer the school?

The KBA provides these sessions so that the public will have the information they need to approach these challenges armed with information, not riddled with fear. We receive funding from the Knoxville Bar Foundation to assist with program expenses, and this year we've partnered with Penny Bandy at East Tennessee Personal Care Service to assist with food for attendees and to help with marketing the programs.

Who should attend the estate planning session?

There is a mistaken assumption that if you are not wealthy or have fixed or limited assets that there is no reason to bother with a will. Others simply don't know how or where to begin—evidenced by the fact that 70 percent of adults in this country die intestate. The program should also appeal to those who have already planned their estate and might anticipate some changes. Attendees will learn about changes in the law that have had an impact on estate planning, including the gift and tax law changes in 2014.

Who should come to the consumer rights class?

Many in our community are facing critical economic and health care decisions and don't know where to turn for basic legal information about their rights and responsibilities. The consumer rights session will help attendee understand their rights if they are trying to pay off a debt and what to do if they are sued by a creditor. They will also learn how to avoid identity theft and what to do if their identity is stolen.

Do the classes usually fill up quickly?

We encourage anyone interested to pre-register to make certain we have adequate handouts and refreshments for everyone who attends. We can accommodate close to 250 at each location and there is still space available.

The March 7 session at the O'Connor Senior Center (611 Winona St.) will cover "Wills & Estate Planning for Everyone" from 9-10:45 a.m. and "Consumer Rights & Responsibilities" from 11 a.m. -12:45 p.m.; the March 8 class includes the same two sessions at the same times at Fellowship Church (8000 Middlebrook Pike). Register on the KBA website at knoxbar.org or call the office at 865-522-6522.