All About Estates

Unpacking the Past

As regular readers of this blog – along with anyone whose profession touches upon any aspect of estate planning and/or administration – know, the discipline is equal parts art and science. Given the credentials of, and work performed by, most contributors to this blog, the technical aspects receive the lion’s share of attention here. Notwithstanding, through both professional and personal experience we’re all acutely aware of the importance of the non-scientific side. (In my view, the best “estates” practitioners are those who give equal weight to both).

In her memoir, They Left us Everything, Plum Johnson does a beautiful job capturing the human side of the equation. Plum spent almost 20 years caring for elderly parents (first dad who was afflicted with dementia, then mum with numerous health issues, not to mention an increasingly ornery personality). Along with her three younger brothers she then began the daunting task of sifting through and ultimately dispersing two lifetimes worth of “stuff”. On more than one occasion Plum asks herself “how hard can it be”? Both Plum and her readers soon find out.

The intrinsic importance of possessions as custodians of memory is a key theme in the book, as reflected in these excerpts:

  • How am I ever going to separate the trash from the treasure in the overstuffed contents… Some of the valuable items I know none of us will want, while the junk of no apparent value has such memory-laden significance that we’ll have to draw straws to see who gets it.
  • The simple of act of making tea seems to require a meditative hike of a thousand memories…
  • …it’s so laden with memories it’s worth its weight in gold.

The task of sifting through 180 years’ worth of stuff proves both challenging and rewarding. Fond childhood memories are evoked and surprising insights into Plum’s parents as individuals and as a couple are gleaned.

They Left us Everything is a touching and humorous memoir. I commend Plum’s book to anyone who has been or may be called upon to settle the estate and preserve the memories of a loved one.

Thanks for reading.

About Elaine Blades