This is one of my favorite pictures – it’s a picture of my (Noah’s) mother promising our daughter Elise that she would do everything she could to continue to get better and recover from pulmonary fibrosis. My mother (her name was Erica Beecher-Monas) had just received her first lung transplant the month before. We were having brunch at the Biltmore hotel (in Coral Gables) the morning after my brother’s wedding to Melissa.
It was a beautiful wedding. It was made even more beautiful by my mother’s surprise appearance; at the last minute, Duke changed their minds about letting her come. I drove her back to Duke after the wedding weekend to continue her treatment and await her second transplant. We were blessed with five more years. She passed in July 2017 – we would not have had this time if she hadn’t received those lung transplants.
Surprisingly, even though my mother was a law professor and, as they say, “should have known better”, she did not put any kind of estate plan in place before she died. We all have limited time here and she knew that more than most. Over a year and a half later, we are still in probate in two states. Although there have been many opportunities for hurt feelings to take over, we have walked away from many arguments and so far kept them out of court.
My mother did do some things like name beneficiaries on most of her accounts, but not all of them. And on one large savings account, she named my sister and me as beneficiaries, but not my brother. We assume that this was a mistake, and my sister and I gave my brother a third share, but it took some structuring to avoid having to pay gift taxes. And I can tell you from experience that not all siblings will do this.
My brother Michael has since died of the same disease in February 2018. We thought he would have a lot more time – perhaps that’s why he also didn’t put any estate plan in place. Michael wanted to put assets in trust for his children and to structure his business so that it would not depend on him. He couldn’t get the plan going while he was in the ICU. Michael did have insurance and he did have time to put medical directives in place and relieve his wife of that tremendous burden.
My brother’s passing prompted us to move The Clements Firm down to Miami and to focus our practice on Estate Planning. We wanted to be there for my brother’s family and have a closer relationship with them. We are a regular part of the lives of my brother’s children and his wife, and blessed.