My daughter lives in Virginia Beach. My son went to Virginia Tech. I worked at the Washington Navy Yard… Legal Readiness in the Aftermath of Tragedy

This country’s most recent mass shooting last week in Virginia Beach, Virginia struck home with me, but it’s not the first time that’s happened and I’m sure many of you have similar experiences where you have some relation to the tragedy that occurs either because of a mass shooting event like that or natural disaster or other unexpected and tragic occurrence.

My daughter is on active duty with the Navy, living and working in Virginia Beach. While there was very little chance that she was at the municipal building complex during the shooting event, when you hear about something happening in a place where a loved one is living or visiting it still causes your heart to sink and your mind to wonder.

Fortunately she was safe and we were able to communicate with her quickly. Sadly, that wasn’t the case for many other families who lost loved ones or had family and friends with serious injuries from the mass shooting. This wasn’t the first experience our family has had with this kind of event. My son is a graduate of Virginia Tech. He was not there for the mass shooting on the campus, he began his studies there the following year. But by coincidence we were there with him on the Friday before the shooting for his campus visit. Like him, we were very impressed with the campus, the academic programs, and with the students we met. He decided on the spot that Virginia Tech was the school where he wanted to go. Just a few days later we were watching the horror of the scenes of the shooting, seeing the beautiful campus in complete chaos. But we also saw in the aftermath of this horrific tragedy the sense of community at Virginia Tech and it reinforced in my son’s mind that this is the school he wanted to attend. And he did. He is a graduate and a proud Hokie alumnus.

I worked for many years at the Washington Navy Yard. I was not there at the time of the mass shooting at the Navy Yard. I was working in my own practice by then. Of course, it struck home with me as there was a good chance that I’d run into some of those victims during my time there and certainly knew the building where the shooting occurred. I felt obligated to do what I could and I was glad to be able to help in some way in the aftermath.

And there are many more stories like that. We lived in Charleston, South Carolina. We have visited Las Vegas. And the list goes on. But my point here is not to get into the political and moral discussion of gun control or related matters. It’s the aftermath that I am focusing on. It’s the how do we deal with the human part of the tragedy and help the families of the victims. Because in many cases in my experience, certainly at the Navy Yard and elsewhere, many of those victims did not have their legal affairs in order. So in addition to the tragic and unexpected loss of a family member, the families now had to go through the struggle of sorting through financial and legal matters that could easily have been in place and planned for.

While these are extreme examples, they highlight the importance of legal readiness. We don’t anticipate going to work one morning and not coming home because of a mass tragedy. But it could (and sadly) does happen. Or you could have a sudden illness. You could have an accident. These are literally matters of life and death. And that is the point of this article — the aftermath of an unexpected and life changing event. But more importantly, preparing in advance for these life and death matters.

The goal is to be prepared in the unlikely – hopefully — chance that something unfortunate might happen. It does not have to be a tragic shooting. It could be something as simple (and presumably far more likely) as a sudden heart attack, stroke, auto accident, or plane crash that creates the need for legal readiness documents. Having a plan in place means that your family has what they need to handle the various legal and financial matters that arise from a sudden death or incapacity. If you have that plan in place your loved ones will not have the additional stress of dealing with all those matters at the same time they are dealing with the unplanned loss or disability. And again, this does not have to be a mass shooting. Beyond the list above of potential life changing events, like many of you my family has also lived through hurricanes, tornados, blizzards, and other natural disasters that can also cause loss of life or serious injury. Basically it is all of those things that life throws at you. And that is what legal readiness is all about. “Having a plan in place for the just in case.”

We call what we do at Reilly Law, PLC Peace of Mind Planning. And at its core, that’s what Peace of Mind Planning is all about – legal readiness. If you have a Peace of Mind Plan in place, should one of these tragic incidents occur, your loved ones will at least have the comfort that you have things in order and have made a very difficult time a little easier for them. They can focus on their emotional support needs rather than be distracted by legal and financial issues right then. It’s not something that we want to think about, but it’s not something that we could ignore either.

I spent 20+ years as a Navy Judge Advocate and a good reason for doing what I do now were the lessons I learned during my service. We valued the importance of legal readiness for our Sailors and Marines and their families. Even in a peacetime setting the Navy and Marine Corps operates in an environment with dangerous machinery and servicemembers often work in hazardous conditions. There are training accidents.  Pilots and Naval aviators flying off aircraft carrier or smaller ships always have an element of risk even in routine flight. Just because something is called  a training mission does not mean there is no risk of loss or accidents. And, of course, if we get into a wartime situation there is a far greater risk of injury or death.

So we prepared our Sailors and Marines before they went off to their ship or unit. We had even our youngest Sailors getting Powers of Attorney, Healthcare Directives, and Wills. We’d get asked questions about why they had to do this since they really didn’t own much and were not wealthy by any stretch of the imagination. And we would tell them the following in one form or another. “This is not about you. This is about your family. This is a gift you can give your loved ones, your spouse, your children, your parents, and/or your siblings to make it easier for them just in case something happens to you. Because we know that as an 18, 19, 20 year-old Sailor or Marine, you’re indestructible. Nothing bad can happen to you. But the reality is you just never know. Something could happen and if it does, we’ve now helped your family at a very difficult time in their lives because they could focus on what’s important and not on the other things which become a senseless distraction.” And they got it.

This same idea—of being prepared as a gift to our loved ones–applies today to all of us. If we have our legal readiness plan in place and we go to work and tragedy occurs, our families will still have a hard time dealing with our injury or death, but at least they have the essential documents and other things in place to take care of what will be needed at that most difficult of times.

So that that’s the point of this article. It is not about senseless tragedy. It’s not about gun control. It’s not anything directly related to those sad and all too frequent occurrences. It is about what we can do to help with the aftermath. And one of the best things we can do is prepare to make things that much easier for our loved ones at what will undoubtedly be one of the most difficult times in their lives.

As I said, the Virginia Beach tragedy was personal to me, as were so many other horrible events. My family was fortunate. Others were not. A lasting gift we can all give to our families is the peace of mind in knowing that you have things in place for the just in case.

Our informational website at provides a no obligation self-assessment of your own legal and financial readiness. We encourage you to visit and learn.