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Photo of attorney Paul Deloughery playing bagpipes

I didn’t grow up dreaming of being a probate lawyer

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How did I end up as a estate planning and probate lawyer? I don’t really know. I certainly didn’t grow up dreaming of being a probate lawyer. One of the common themes of my life is to learn about adaptability.

Growing up, I believed that I was one-half Irish. After all, my last name is Deloughery (which comes from Dubhluachra and dates to before the Vikings … more than 1,000 years ago). Then around 2003 (some ten years after the above-photo was taken), I learned that I’m basically 100% German. But first, let me tell you more about my story and about how a musician ended up as one of the most sought-after probate and estate planning attorneys in Scottsdale, Arizona.

In high school, everyone told me how good I was at music. So I became a music geek, playing sax, flute, clarinet, bassoon, and bagpipes. (Yes, bagpipes.) I practiced hours every day, eventually making a decision that I would become a professional musician. Actually, I’m not so much sure that I actually made the decision. Rather, everyone including my overbearing mom said I “should” become a musician. As a teenage kid with no clue, it was more like I gave in to the pressure. I don’t honestly remember anyone ever asking me what I personally wanted to do. I got into playing and competing in Irish music. (My mom and Irish stepdad had convinced me that I was Irish; I had been given my stepdad’s last name.) I actually loved (and still love) the sound of well-played Highland bagpipes. I won lots of competitions, including Irish dance competitions (I was in the Michael Flatley School for a time), the contest to be one of the 100 high school kids to play in the McDonald’s All-American Marching Band (in which I played alto sax), and even the All-Ireland championship for bagpipes in 1983.

I ended up getting two music degrees. The first was a B.S. in Music Performance and B.A. in History (double major) from Indiana University-Bloomington. (I graduated With Honors, and in the Honors Program, thank you very much.) Then I also got a Masters in Music Performance from the University of Iowa in Iowa City. By then, I figured out that I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life playing music (and making a fraction of what other people made for less work). Within four months of getting my Masters Degree, I looked into what it would take to go to law school. Being short of money at the time, I borrowed a couple of LSAT review books from the local library. About six weeks later, I took the LSAT and got a good enough score to get into the Iowa College of Law (which was ranked around 20th in the country at the time.

During law school, I also helped my mom run a small Medicare/Medicaid-certified skilled-nursing home health agency in Southeastern Minnesota. She had been working long hours trying to pay off debts from when my stepdad died and also save for retirement. She had always been a nurse, and was very proud of her profession. Earlier in her career, she had been a nursing professor at UCLA and other universities. She had published several nursing textbooks that had been translated into several languages. But by the mid-90s (when I was going to law school), she was in her fifties and wanting to start slowing down. Or at least she seemed to me to be getting tired. In any event, that’s why I helped her start a home health agency.

Being involved in home health care introduced me to struggles that families go through as loved ones get older. I remember one elderly couple. The man had been a physician (and a long-time friend of my mom’s). He had self-diagnosed himself as having Alzheimer’s Disease. The wife helped care for him as long as she could, but then they both needed help to stay in their home. Our home health agency also took care of my mom’s dad (Grampa Meinen).

Somewhere along the line, I got drawn into becoming an estate planning and probate lawyer. I liked being able to help families through some of the more difficult times of their lives. But what has always frustrated me is the disconnect between the reality of psychology and family dynamics on one hand, and the rigid solutions provided by professional advisers on the other. I’ll get more into that in coming blog posts.

In the meanwhile, I’d really like to hear stories about what you dreamed of becoming as a child and whether that relates in any way to what you are doing now. Do you wish you could turn back the clock and take a different direction in your life?


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