Monday, February 19, 2018

Mixer Feelings

While a great deal of an attorney’s responsibility attaches to understanding the law, in the area of estate planning an experienced attorney will also serve as a guide, counselor and mediator, assisting client's designees as they navigate complex family dynamics. It is important to communicate to beneficiaries left behind after a client has died the wishes of the client as laid out in the estate planning documents. While a beneficiary may disagree or be unhappy with the terms of the documents and what has been left for them, it is important that all beneficiaries understand the intent of the client and that arguing against it can cost all parties significant time delays and expense. Despite this process, a may still act against their own best interest and the best interest of the other beneficiaries.

Ramona was a lovely woman who had strong, but different, relationships with her two daughters, Samantha and Tammy. Ramona's relationships with her daughters reflected different hobbies that each enjoyed, and because of differences in Samantha and Tammy’s personalities, Ramona's relationships with her daughters rarely overlapped. Unfortunately, while Samantha and Tammy's different personalities allowed Ramona to enjoy time with each of her daughters, those personality differences also created deep-seated tension between the sisters.
Following Ramona's death, Tammy and Samantha were named as co-trustees to administer their mother's Trust, but unfortunately almost immediately problems began to arise. Shortly after Ramona's death Tammy went to Ramona's home and removed a number of items of personal property. In response, Samantha took steps to secure Ramona's estate planning documents, which led to rapidly escalating retaliatory actions between the women until both realized that they would be unable to continue the administration of their mother's Trust without some sort of mediator. We had represented Ramona in preparing her estate plan and, thankfully, her daughters trusted us to act as impartial arbitrators and guide them through the administration process.
Tammy and Samantha divided the administrative efforts so that their contact would be minimal and for the most part occur using us as intermediaries, which worked well until it came time to address the division of the remaining personal property. This portion of the administration grew increasingly acrimonious as Samantha and Tammy continued to argue. The argument came to a head in our offices where we met with the two women in separate conference rooms and attempted to sort out the cause of their fighting. After much discussion, it became clear that Samantha was particularly incensed by Tammy's initial removal of items from Ramona's house, including a KitchenAid stand mixer. That mixer was a particular sticking point because Samantha knew that Tammy already owned a stand mixer and therefore likely had no need for Ramona's mixer.
When we broached the subject of the mixer with Tammy, she shared with us a number of wonderful memories of her time speaking with her mother and recollected how impressed Ramona always was that the mixer she received as a wedding present held up so well over many decades of use. Tammy indicated that she hoped her mother's mixer would continue to serve her just as well and help her to remember her mother every time she baked. As Tammy shared the story, it became clear that her initial action had not been malicious, but that she never considered how Samantha might feel about the situation. The idea of a compromise began to form and we returned to speak with Samantha.
After confirming that Samantha did not share Tammy's sentimental feelings about the mixer we brought the two women together and asked Tammy to share the memories of baking with Ramona with her sister. After Tammy recounted all the years that she baked with her mother, we were able to work out an arrangement where Samantha received Tammy's mixer, Tammy kept Ramona's mixer, and the two sisters began the process of healing their relationship. While I cannot say that we created lasting peace in our time, we did at least enable the family to effectively administer their loved one's affairs.
While not all conflicts are as simple to resolve as swapping small appliances is important to recognize that often what seemed like insurmountable conflicts have their roots in relatively small transgressions and with proper assistance, it is possible to begin the healing process. An experienced estate planning attorney will do more for the family than prepare documents or go to the Probate Court. They can also help strengthen family bonds in the face of emotional difficulties.

Matt and Al

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