As we age, and, as we deal with aging parents, we become more and more concerned with protecting assets. Sometimes, we can do everything we think is right, only to discover that doing what is right can result in getting it wrong.
The following is Pt 2 of a guest post from Ina Nenninger, who turned a negative experience into a cautionary tale for others. Ina wants nothing more than to help people avoid going through what she did, and we are grateful to her for her hard-won wisdom. If you missed Pt 1, please read it before you read Pt 2:
Mom passed away in May 2016 at the age of 96. That June, I received documents from her estate from the bank. There was the same will I had seen and also a living trust document. And that is when I realized that the “guts” of mom’s estate instructions were included in the living trust. In there was a page with a list of bequests. I began to wonder why I had not be told of the significance of the living trust document when I had requested a copy of the will.
First on the list of bequests was a donation. Second was a bequest to her caretaker. The amount of that bequest was 5 times the amount that was previously to go to her former caretaker (who had worked for the family for more than twice as long!), and the amount was equal to the bequests to each of the grandsons. It would be appropriate to mention here that the caretaker and the account manager had become very close social friends (so close that the caretaker stayed at the home of the account manager often, including the night after my mother’s passing). The list of bequests did not include anything for the woman who had been taking care of Mom every weekend for at least 3 or 4 years.
The list of bequests did include the first great-granddaughter. However, prior to the date of the signing of the revised will and the restatement of the living trust, a second great granddaughter had been born. I doubt that my 95-year-old mother realized that she’d included only one of the girls. By this time, she often thought I was her sister rather than her daughter.
The new documents also shocked us with regard to the family home. My parents had built that house in 1983 and had lived there ever since. My mother had asked us many times if we would be sure to use the house after she was gone. Specifically, she had told the one grandson who lives in that area that he should live in the house. Instead, the will stated that the house was to be sold.
The bank was named as the sole Personal Representative for the estate (Florida’s title for what the rest of us call the Executor). They gave us a deadline to remove all personal belongings. And they removed our privileges to enter the house or even to enter the gated community where it is located. This despite the fact that the estate is, of course, still required to pay the community and country club fees until the house is sold. This is likely to be a long, drawn out process due to depressed values in the neighborhood. And so we are paying a country club membership but are not allowed to use it! All of this could have been avoided if at least one of us in the family was named as a co-trustee of the Living Trust or as executor of the estate.
There are more details that could be listed here. However, it seems that the items listed give you enough of our story to lead you to your own conclusions. And hopefully they will lead you to avoid the misjudgments we made.
While we felt we had taken appropriate steps to care for my mother’s physical and financial well-being, we should have taken further steps to oversee the details. We had the right and the responsibility to check into every aspect of her care, including full knowledge of every detail of her finances.