Meet a Mom: Community Builder & Estate Planning Guru Mary Gifford! | Chicago North Shore Moms

Hello friendly faces! It’s that time of the week! We’re back with a new CNSMoms’ Meet a Mom spotlight brought to you in part by Mary Gifford of Gifford Law. This week’s Meet a Mom interview is with, well, Mary Gifford! Mary is a Lake Forest mama of three girls (10 year old twins and one spunky 8 year old), and the founder of Gifford Law, a solo estate planning firm. We first heard from Mary in April of 2021 and now it’s time to catch up!

Get to know Mary, the very personal decision she decided to make major career pivot during Covid, a few new local North Shore gems and the spirit of helping other mamas. Mary embodies the spirit of community and empowerment as CNSMoms’ very own Meet a Mom sponsor, and we can’t thank her enough for helping us lift up our local North Shore mamas. Welcome, Mary!

Hi Mary! Where are you from originally? What city do you live in now? 

Hi! My name is Mary Gifford. I grew up in Libertyville, lived in Chicago for years, and now live in Lake Forest.


You’re a mama! How many kiddos do you have and how old are they?

My twins turned 10 on Sunday, December 18th!  I can’t believe I have 10-year-olds already.  My youngest is 8.  My poor husband basically lives in a sorority house.


Haha! True. What’s your favorite thing about being a mom of three girls?

My absolute favorite thing about being a mom is watching their personalities come to life a little more every day. When I first had each of my children, I remember looking at these blank slates of a human, thinking “Who are you???”. Now, I love observing what interests to which they are naturally and intrinsically drawn, catching a moment where their senses of humor emerge, watching them develop relationships with each other and the world, listening to their opinions on life, and taking in their ever-changing personal styles (using the term ‘style’ very loosely here).



How has life changed for you since your original interview posted in April of 2021?

Life has been good this past year. My husband has a new job, which keeps him downtown all week. Our longtime nanny recently got married and is moving on to bigger and better things. So, I am just trying to balance running my own estate planning practice with being a mom/chauffeur/sports uniform launderer/chef/tutor/responsible adult. Every day is different, but it keeps us on our toes.



What is one thing people would be surprised to know about you…

On my honeymoon, my husband and I spent a night in a treehouse on a South African wild game reserve, miles from other people. It was amazing to wake up predawn with the animals.


Any new North Shore discoveries you’d like to share?

Lake Forest now has a Le Colonial and a Sophia Steak so it’s been fun to have some more dining options!  I’m also loving Flowers by Katie Ford (@flowersbykatieford).  She makes beautiful arrangements and has really fun workshops periodically.


Have you been able to travel with the kids since life opened up? Any fun places? 

We went to the Dominican Republic this past year to enjoy a beach vacation with the kids and I also enjoyed a girls’ trip to Palm Springs.  But now that my kids are older, I’m excited to travel more with them!  Now they appreciate it so much more, and can carry their own carry-ons.  I’d love to take them on a dude ranch family vacation.  Also – have you seen White Lotus Season 2?  Italy just got bumped way up on my travel bucket list.


How are you spending the holidays this year (2022)?

This year I’m trying really hard to enjoy all of the special moments.  Moms, in particular, have a lot of pressure to be the “magic creators” of the family during this time of year.  Every year I end up trying to just get through it.  This year, I also want to enjoy it and maybe find some magic for myself.  In the form of a holiday themed cocktail.


You’re a mompreneur! Please introduce your Estate Planning firm, Gifford Law, LLC.  

I started Gifford Law, LLC in (2020) in the midst of the pandemic. Gifford Law is an estate planning firm that is driven by expertise, transparency, and human connection. We use plain English to explain complex estate planning concepts and guide our clients through the available options to achieve peace of mind for our clients and their loved ones.



How it began…. Covid brought a lot of estate planning issues into sharp focus for families. Issues such as what will happen to my children if I die? If I am incapacitated, what will happen to my finances? Who will decide if I go on a respirator if I can’t decide? All of the issues that are easy to ignore or put off when times are good, but during the pandemic, they became impossible to ignore. I wanted to help families find some sense of security and control during a time when nothing felt sure. I decided to take my knowledge of sophisticated estate planning techniques and apply them to families like my own, allowing families to secure their future, should the unthinkable happen.


What was your career prior to starting your estate planning firm? what was your line of work?

Prior to starting my estate planning firm I worked for a CPA firm and an investment advisory firm serving high net income clients.


One of the reasons you started your own practice is quite personal. Can you please share with us more about that?

One of the motivations for starting my firm was the opportunity to help families to prepare for and deal with the unexpected.  Our family was dealt the unexpected in 2018 when my youngest daughter was diagnosed with Leukemia at the age of 3.  It was the last thing I ever anticipated happening to my sweet baby girl.  Her diagnosis fundamentally changed our family and taught us to live in the present, remain grateful for the boring ordinary routine days, focus on what really matters, and to give back to other families dealing with a child with cancer.  My daughter finished her treatment last summer and is now in remission and doing well!  We are forever grateful to the Lurie Children’s Hospital Cancer and Blood Disorders Team. To all the Cancer Mommas, I know how hard it is and how long the road is. My heart goes out to you and I’m happy to talk to anyone going through it.



And was it scary to leave a corporate office and go out on your own?

To be honest, it wasn’t scary to start a practice on my own, because I knew I wasn’t completely alone and was in control of my future. Throughout my career, I built a great network of relationships that have been invaluable to my practice. I knew that if I started my own firm, I could choose the people I surrounded myself with. I found intelligent, experienced, inspiring, and generous people to mentor me, surrounded myself with supportive and like-minded peers with whom I can share experiences and collaborate, chose the clients that I wanted to serve, and found a way to practice law that aligns with my personal morals and beliefs.

That is not to say that having a solo practice isn’t hard. Because it is. But everything is hard. Working for a firm or company where you get a regular paycheck every two weeks, but have no control, autonomy, and are unfulfilled and unsatisfied is also hard. You have to choose your hard.


What is the most rewarding thing about your career?

The most rewarding thing about my career is being able to help families gain a little bit of certainty in an uncertain world. I love the relief on my clients’ faces once they have completed their estate plan. I can almost see the weight being lifted from their shoulders.



Do you have any mentors or influencers who have helped along the way?

My brother, who manages his own law practice and taught me so much; my mom, who managed to work full time and made parenting look easy; my dad who ran his own dental practice; and my husband who regularly makes the impossible possible.

And of course…. Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Michelle Obama, all the working moms in our community, and Beyonce and Rihanna, for bringing the hype to this house daily.


Any new advice you’d like to share with regards to wills and trusts? 

Wills and trusts don’t have to be complicated.  While it sounds like something you’d overhear Jeff Besos and friends chatting about on a yacht, an estate plan is really just a set of instructions and rules to be implemented when you pass.  It’s an easy way to control how your money and belongings are handled and how your family is taken care of after your death.


What advice can you give other mamas out there who are looking to start a new business in the current climate?

More than 2.3 million women have dropped out of the labor force since February 2020, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Economists have called this recession a “she-cession.” Not only is this bad for women, but bad for our country’s economy as a whole.

If the Covid-19 pandemic has taught us anything, it’s how obviously dependent mothers’ careers are on the schools as de facto childcare. But the U.S. government has never been all that eager to establish programs that would make working mothers’ lives more manageable. So, I think one by one, we as mothers, have to find our own paths and our own creative solutions when it comes to remaining in the workforce while raising children. If your solution is starting your own business on your terms, I think now is a great time to do so. The internet and social media are the great equalizers. Never in our history have information and resources been so available and accessible to everyone. Never before have we had such an opportunity to create our own brand, networks, connections, and ability to speak directly to our clients, customers, networks. If you want to start a new business, put together a plan and start chipping away at it. If possible, start by doing it on the side. Just start, learn from your mistakes, adjust accordingly, repeat.


Fabulous advice, thank you! What are the 2 most common questions that people reach out to ask you? Please also provide those answers.

“Why is it so important to have an estate plan once you have a family?”

This is where things get heavy. And for good reason. What would happen to your children if you died tomorrow?
Say you have a parent or other relative who you would like to take care of your kids. Without an estate plan, that relative would need to obtain guardianship over your children through a court proceeding before they would have legal authority to manage their care and provide for their well-being. What your assets? Your property would need to be distributed through probate court. If your children are minors, they will not be able to access those assets until they reach age 18. In the meantime, a guardian would manage that property for your children. Taking care of your children and taking care of your stuff all requires time, money, and court proceedings. There are also many ways things could go wrong. Are there any relatives you do NOT want to take care of your kids? Is there anyone you do NOT want to oversee your assets? Do you want to leave certain funds for your child’s education? Do you want to ensure your child is able to stay in the same city or school district after your death? Are there any other special instructions you want to leave behind? Without an estate plan, all these questions are left up to chance.

Considering your own death can be a very heavy thought, especially once a child has come into your life. However, it’s just another one of the many hard parenting things you’ve already done and will continue to do to ensure that your child is provided for and taken care of, no matter what happens. And I’d still argue that creating an estate plan is a lot easier than 3 AM feedings or waiting up for your teen driver to arrive home at night.

“I’m not rich, do I really need an estate plan?”

Absolutely. The goal of an estate plan is to provide security for you and your family. When you think of it that way, wealth has nothing to do with it at all.

An estate plan isn’t for you, but for those you love and leave behind. When you die, someone has to settle your estate. Even for a small checking account and a car, someone has to distribute the account and change car’s title. Without an estate plan, someone will have to go to probate court, prove a relationship to the deceased and be assigned by a judge to serve as executor.

You will also want to plan for your health. No one wants to spend time thinking about what would happen if you became unable to direct your own medical care because of an illness, an accident, or advanced age. However, if you don’t do at least a little bit of planning—writing down your wishes about the kinds of treatment you do or don’t want to receive and naming someone you trust to oversee your care—then these important matters could wind up in the hands of estranged family members, doctors, or sometimes even judges, who may know very little about what you would prefer. While you are having a medical crisis, your loved ones will undoubtedly be undergoing their own emotional crisis in their concern for you. You can make it easier on them by having your healthcare wishes documented, giving your loved ones the comfort of knowing they are executing your plan exactly the way you want.


We are truly honored to have you as CNSMoms Meet a Mom sponsor! Why did you choose to become the CNSM Meet a Mom sponsor?

I chose to become the CNSM Meet a Mom sponsor because it was the perfect opportunity to both serve the local community by sharing the amazing resources we have right here in our own backyard and to help support local moms and their businesses.  I truly believe that the old adage “it takes a village to raise a child” still remains true.  Our villages may look different, and may reside somewhere in the sea of binary code that is the internet, but I believe when women come together and support and promote each other, the entire community wins.  CNSM is an amazing resource and a great community of moms and I feel lucky to be a part of it.   Not to mention, it is run by some pretty cool chicks.


How can we connect with you for more information?

You can find my website here:
Email: [email protected]

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