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My sister Nancy, two brothers Bruce and Carl, and I had a conversation with my 91-year-old Mother at the end of a great family reunion. There were only the five of us and one grandchild who were there. As it turned out, my siblings’ spouses were not there. My mother has been so fortunate to have neighbors who deliver hot food to her every day and help with housework. My mother has lived in this home on 20 acres in rural Arizona, ten miles from Sonoita, AZ, for the last 45 years. She loves this home. My step-father built this home after they moved to Santa Cruz County, AZ, from Maricopa County. We all want her to live there as long as possible. My brother Bruce is a retired neurologist who has treated patients grappling with end-of-life issues over his career, and then in his own life when his wife’s mother needed to move into a nursing home. Bruce started the conversation.
“Mom, this is what I think may happen sooner or later. There will come a time when you will not be able to stand up on your own. At that point, you will need to call 911 for the paramedics. They will take you to the hospital.” Pause. “From there, you will live with Nancy [in Tucson] for a month. Then you will live in Flagstaff for two months with Gary and me. Likely you will be living in Gary’s home because my home has two stories, while I will be taking you to the Aquaplex daily and caring for you because Gary is still working. Then, you will move to Oregon to live with Carl for a month. In the meanwhile, we will need to sell your home. We will then continue to alternate having you live with the four of us.”
We were all in agreement. I had just read a remarkable book about the end of life called Being Mortal: Medicine and What Happens in the End by Atul Gawande. I was struck by how living with extended family was so much better for the elderly.
Bruce explained more. He said that it was important that Nancy know that this would not all land on her as she was living nearby in Tucson and was the only girl. (He mentioned that he had seen situations where the first child who had mom, would not be able to reach the other siblings, who would be suddenly not be answering their phones.) We talked about what to do about Mom’s stocks. We agreed that Carl would go to his investment advisor at Edward R. Jones, to consolidate her assets. I volunteered to find out with lawyers about how to transfer the home now, so we would not have to file a conservatorship. I said that my house was not set up for a wheelchair. Bruce said, “Well, you will have a month to get that taken care of.”
My mother spoke up. “Gary has been providing me with $500.00 every time he visits. I want him paid back first.” Everybody agreed. We talked about her will which was created in 2000 after my step-father died. Bruce said that he didn’t need any money. (His net worth is probably several times more than the combined net worth of his three siblings.) My mother’s original idea was to split her assets and to give half to her children and half to her 10 grandchildren.
Bruce suggested that we keep it simple and simply divide her assets three ways between Nancy, Carl, and me, and he would take care of his three children. I suggested that I should receive only 20% of the assets as I did not have any children, and Nancy and Carl should each receive 40%. Nancy and Carl disagreed, “No Gary, you get a third.” Pause. “Plus, when you pass, our children will likely inherit from you.” Me: “Well, that’s probably true.”
My nephew just listened to all of us with amazement.
I am the oldest of six children. I was born in 1952, Bruce in 1954, Suzie in 1957, Nancy in 1960, Carl in 1966, and Liz in 1970. We lived in Scottsdale in Maricopa County. I went off to The University of Arizona in Tucson in September in 1970, so all eight of us were together for only a half year between Liz’s birth and me going off to college. My parents divorced around 1974. My mother remarried a year later. Liz died in 1982 at the age of 12 when she was thrown from a horse. My step-father died in 2000 at the age of 75. Suzie died at age 49 in 2006 due to the impact of smoking earlier in her life. My father died in 2016 at the age of 90. There are only the four siblings and my mother left.
When my sister Suzie died in 2006, she died intestate, meaning that she did not have a will. So, her assets would be divided between my parents where there was a great deal of animosity. However, Suzie had a life insurance policy where Nancy and Carl were the two beneficiaries. Nancy and Carl were looking at sending their children to college. We concluded that this would be what Suzie would want, as Bruce could afford to send his kids to college. As the family lawyer, I had a quick solution to this. Both of my parents, Bruce and I would each individually “disclaim” our interests in Suzie’s estate. By the process of elimination, that would lead only Nancy and Carl to inherit. I wrote up four disclaimers which we all signed and witnessed. Boom, it was done!
Just as I had used my expertise in 2006, Bruce used his expertise in 2022.
Nancy is a labor and delivery nurse who works one day a week and is on call. Bruce and his wife are both retired. Carl’s wife is retired. We’ve got this covered. My mother will be well cared for no matter what.Published in