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It’s all about family for estate planning attorney María Martínez-Siemel, one of the newest members of the Ask the Experts panel on the Sage magazine website at abqjournalsage.com.
That’s what brought her back to New Mexico after she got her undergraduate degree from Rice University in Houston.
And family is what informed her career path moving into estate law after being on a pre-med track.
Martínez-Siemel grew up in Martíneztown, where she says, “I have a whole boatload of lawyers in my family.”
But … wait for it … “All of them advised me not to go into law.”
Asked to name four core values, María Martínez-Siemel says, “Family, family, family and family.” For her, the value gets expressed in four different ways:
- The financial portion, the money you provide for your family.
- The everyday portion, the actions you take to take care of them.
- The emotional portion, maintaining an emotional equilibrium, based on the value of “putting family first.”
- The legacy, the love and vision you leave for your family.
Yet she sees the work as a perfect fit for her, because “a, you get to hear other people’s stories, and b, you help them take care of their family.”
In her blog, she’ll write about how to plan for long-term care, protect estate assets, write advance directives and set up guardianships and conservatorships.
Sharing a legacy
While much of her work focuses on abstract things like documents and tax consequences, Martínez-Siemel says the true aim is helping elderly parents stay independent longer or siblings communicate well as they are caregiving and grieving.
“It doesn’t take too long to work in this area before it becomes not-abstract,” she says.
That’s why, about six years ago, she incorporated legacy interviews into the estate planning process. Many families have exactly that intention: They want to interview their loved ones, but they don’t always act on it.
“We’re already set up for it,” she says. “We have the digital recorder. It’s easier to have someone else ask those questions.”
Martínez-Siemel will ask the client questions such as “What is the thing you love about your kids?” or “What did you learn in life that you want your kids to know?”
Their answers are unique to each family. One might say, “This kid really makes me laugh,” while another might answer, “The value of an education.”
To date, she’s done between 50 and 100 CDs for clients. Where she’s coming from on this is from her own appreciation of family. One of her grandmas was a “hilarious bohemian lady” who had been a debutante in Philadelphia. Her favorite phrase was “honestly.” She was notorious in the family because she had driven a pickup truck and had been to Brazil with Martínez-Siemel’s grandfather.
“That’s what I think about,” Martínez-Siemel says. “I don’t think about her stuff.”
Dividing up the stuff
But the stuff does need to get talked about, too, and Martínez-Siemel helps people talk about the hard topics.
She very much understands the strain of caring for an aging parent, compounded by grieving. Even in her enormous family – her mom had 15 brothers and sisters – it was still a supreme challenge to ensure her grandparents received the care necessary.
“Both of my grandparents lived to be 99,” she says. “They were spry. But both of them started to need help at about 95. It’s probably the most difficult job in the world.”
Her aim is to lay a strong legal foundation so the transitions go as smoothly as possible.
Back to family
In 2011, Martínez-Siemel took time out from estate planning law, working for the City of Albuquerque as the city’s construction lawyer.
But she’s back in, as the owner of Siemel Law Firm, because she says, “It’s a place where you can make a huge difference.”
She recognizes that assets have emotional ties. The family home is not just a house.
“You can do so much to make your family, and the process of grieving easier, by planning and by talking to your family,” she says. “Make sure you’ve done what you can. You can make it easier.”
Carolyn Flynn is the editor of Sage magazine, published quarterly in print and daily online at abqjournalsage.com. Find Sage at facebook.com/sageabqjournal and “like” the page to get it in your newsfeed. You may reach the editor at 505-823-3870, firstname.lastname@example.org or through Facebook.