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Lessons from My Mother's Estate

Aimee Griffin, Esq., The Griffin Firm | 7/11/2014, 11:05 a.m.
Aimee Griffin

This month my mother passed away. It was a painful experience, but with most mom experiences, there were lessons that have reinforced my estate planning work. I have been working with families to create and share legacies through estate planning for almost ten years. This personal experience confirmed many of the practices I employ and proclaim.

As children/heirs have conversations with your parents.

In many families talking about estate planning and finances is "grown folks" business. I have had adults in their 40s ask me to come and talk to their parents because they thought it would gain them entry into this conversation with an "expert."

Admittedly, my mom was the same way. Even as she became fragile, she was not willing to have the conversations. Most of her life, my mom was fiercely independent. She was quite accomplished in many areas. She was an incredible community contributor. However, she did not have a financial planner and she kept her financial decisions to herself.

Part of the grieving process was to uncover the secret pockets and panels that held the financial information.

As a professional and a daughter, I asked my mother and father about their estate plans. My mother assured me that she taken care of it with another attorney.

Review the estate plan annually.

Many planners will say that you should review the plan periodically or with each life altering event. I encourage folks to review their estate plan annually. If you look at your plan annually there is a constant reminder that the time now is the time to review and significant details will be updated. As I have grown older I have realized that weeks turn into months that turn into years very quickly. Time does not pause because we would like it to.

My mom's estate plan was written more than a decade before she passed away. Some assets were no longer assets. I was not using the same name as I was using ten years ago. I have to locate my name change information in order to manage affairs that my mother had listed in my former name.

Understand the financial impact of the appointment

I encourage people to think clearly about people in their lives before appointment to serve as personal representative or trustee. While my mother was loved by four children who are adults, we each come with different skills, attributes and capacities. These considerations should have an impact on the decision in appointment.

The responsibility to serve as personal representative may have significant financial responsibility. My mother did not have a prepaid funeral, so a financial commitment was required. My mother lived on the west coast. I have a sister who lives in South Africa. Two of us live on the east coast. There is a substantial time requirement to manage the personal matters of settling the estate. Fortunately, the timing afforded the personal representative to spend considerable time on the west coast although living on the east coast.

Understand the grieving process impact