Follow The Money

“You do realize that you’ve made the majority of your assets ‘payable on death’ to daisyfae.  The directions in your will do not apply to those assets – they belong to her the minute you die.  Are you sure that’s what you want to do?”

“I told her to divide by four.  She’ll divide by four.”

Mom didn’t even glance at me as she delivered the line.  She was not confused.

We met with Mom’s attorney about a year ago to wrap up loose ends of her estate planning.  Ken is a good ol’ country boy, close to my age, practicing law with two other attorneys out of a renovated house in a village near the Trailer Park.

“OK, then.  Let’s identify other assets you may have.  Do you have any cash around the house?” Ken was taking notes.  “How much, roughly, do you have on hand?”

“About $50,000.”

He looked up over his reading glasses – first at Mom, then at me.  Addressing him, i said “Excuse me…”.  Turning to Mom “What the fuck?  You have that much cash lying around the house?  You have been living like a gypsy for the past four years!  Jesus, Momma!  We’ve talked about this!  With all the workers and transients coming through there, it isn’t secure.”

“It’s in a locked box…”

“It’s in a locked box with a HANDLE!” i said, firmly placing my face into my palm.  Through my fingers i asked her “When was the last time you saw the box?  Inventoried the contents?”

“Well, I haven’t had a lot of privacy… Maybe two years ago?”

Ken barely raised an eyebrow. i apologized for the disruption and let them continue.  i was there as her driver and observer.

Through the course of the conversation, Mom laid out her financial soul*, and the circumstances of her life.  She declared her wish to leave the house, and the acreage, to my niece who had been taking care of her for four years.  Working through details for over two hours, Ken got a good bit of insight into life in the Trailer Park, and an introduction to the cast of characters.

When Mom landed in the intensive care unit after being admitted to the hospital, one of the first things i needed to do was get that box out of the laundry basket in her bedroom where she’d hidden it.  She’d also told me where she’d stashed the keys.

Preparing to leave the hospital that night, i told my niece, DQ, that i needed to swing by the house to find the original “power of attorney” form, which i believed to be in a locked box.  She said she’d call her husband, BJ, so he’d be expecting me.

BJ and the 7 year old, DQ III, were happy to help me find that box.  In fact, they had the box sitting on a chair in Mom’s living room.  BJ asked if i knew where the key was.  DQ III piped up helpfully “We don’t have the key!  We’ve tried every key we could find and none of them work!”

Grabbing another file box, overflowing with papers, i also snagged Mom’s purse, hoping that i’d find the key she’d hidden the in the lining.  “Well, i’m sure the form i’m looking for is in there somewhere… i’ll go through this all tonight” and beat a hasty retreat to my car.

Getting home, Studley was there to meet me in the driveway with a vodka tonic, and had dinner ready on the table.  We inventoried the box.  It was all in there.  Neatly divided into envelopes, recipients identified, she’d prepared all the cash for distribution.  Other treasures as well, including my grandfather’s pocket watch, and jewelry that belonged to my grandmother.

This belonged to the woman who didn’t want to call a medical transport to take her to the hospital because it might cost $250.  This belonged to the woman who fretted over every penny she spent on herself.  Prepared for a rainy day, she was now in the monsoon season.  Too late to enjoy any of it…

~~~~~~~~~~~

The week after Mom died, i met with Ken.  He got me started on filling out necessary paperwork, and coached me on navigating the wickets ahead.  We went through assets that were likely to be outside the estate, and the few items that would need to be included.  When we were done with the formalities, he looked me directly in the eye.

“Your Mom knew what she was doing.  Given all the crazy business in your family, your niece exploiting her, she just left everything to you, didn’t she?  She appreciated that you’ve worked hard all your life, and that you’d probably go do good things with all that money.”

“Ken, you heard her say ‘divide by four’.  That’s what she wanted.  The house and property go to my niece, and everything else is divvied up between me and my sisters and brother.”

“Yeah, but you’ve been the one who has looked after her interests for all these years.  Don’t you think she really left it to you because you’ll end up taking care of them all anyway?  Why else would she have done it this way?  You don’t have to tell anyone how much is there – it’s all yours.  They don’t even need to know…”

i was stunned.  Was he really suggesting that i keep it all?

Leaning forward, staring him down. “Sir, you are looking at 200 pounds of pure guilt.  She said ‘divide by four’ and i’m going to divide by four.  There is no other option.”

He sprouted a huge grin, leaned back in his chair and said “And THAT’S why she picked you!  Ok, about transferring the title to her car…”

honest lawyer

*Mostly.  i’m still finding Easter Eggs here and there.  Places where she stashed assets and either forgot about or forgot to mention… Going through some of her papers, there are a few mysteries afoot, too.

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30 thoughts on “Follow The Money

  1. Also had the dubious privilege of dealing with my mom’s estate (but only divided by 3 which is easier math). She didn’t have a will because “Y’all will know what to do”.

    We do what we’ve gotta do.

    • Mom was fairly deliberate about moving things outside of her estate, which all has to be handled in a meticulous manner. i’ve got my hands full with that bit, which does include a large collection of coins that are being inventoried and appraised by a dealer i am paying to perform the task. Although she believed there were things of great value in the lot, my preliminary evaluation is that they are not worth all that much. It’s a lot of work, though. And yes, we do what we’ve got to do. i am spending some time this year simplifying my assets to make it easier on my spawn when i die… They’ll thank me later, as i’ve thanked Mom on several occasions after discovering that she’d tidied things up for us.

  2. My mother had all my grandfather’s assets in her name. After he died, she divided it among the for siblings. She later said for all the bitching she got about how she divided the estate, she might as well have kept it all. I hope you have better luck. (I bet I can guess who will give you trouble.)

    • So far, it has all been remarkably civil. i am not in a rush, as no one on the distribution list is in dire need of money. There were several items, as well as some cash, that were distributed directly so there has been a small payout to get the ball rolling. The only one that is likely to give me a headache? My brother. Seeing as he owed Mom a lot of money, she’d already done a few things to account for that… i’m prepared for trouble. If he does anything disruptive i shall rain fire upon his head… Right now? He’s being very nice because he knows better than to piss me off… Mom wasn’t stupid about this… She gave me a means to correct bad behavior. Clever.

        • So far, he’s been a gentle annoyance. We can’t go back and change history. Mom DID remove him as beneficiary on one CD. She held back money from his cash envelope to account for money she’d loaned him to buy a wedding ring for wife #3. He knows about that, so in the back of his mind, he may well be expecting some accountability.

          The bigger problem? When he divorced wife #2 he had to cash out his retirement savings and give her half. Rather than re-invest, he took every single dime of that money, went to Vegas (because he had a ‘system’) and lost it all. All of it. Gone. So at 45 years old, he reset his retirement to zero. Of concern is that given a large sum of money again, he would probably do the same sort of thing….leaving himself nothing for his future. If wife #4, or #5, or #6, decide not to stick around to take care of him, then it will fall to me…. That promise i made Dad on his death bed. Part of the conundrum i face… Again, a first world sort of problem, but i want to do the right thing by my parents.

        • Exactly. Something along those lines….i’ve talked through some ideas with my sisters and they are in agreement. It’s a combination of making sure he (and his children) have resources to care for him if needed, and not wanting to see the money that Mom and Dad saved completely pissed away in a weekend….

  3. Sounds like our 87 year-old neighbor lady who’s worth at least several million from a successful real estate career but doesn’t want to spend $10 on a new bathroom scale. Everything she has goes to her only granddaughter, including a large ranch out in the country.

    You sound like me, daisyfae. I was the executor of my mother’s will and could easily have moved some of the numbers around to benefit me too, but my mom said “Divide everything equally between you and your brother.” And that’s what I did. Pure guilt. You hit the nail on the head. Your mom knew what she was doing, for sure. Hope you find some hidden treasures among the Easter eggs.

    • We’re not looking at millions, but i did uncover a lot more than i expected, based on what Mom had told me. The first time i realized how much was in the bank? i sat and cried… The poor woman at the bank thought i was nuts. All i could think about were the trips Mom had wanted to take, but never did. i truly wish she’d spent it all on the slot machines.

      My goal is to have all of this sorted out and done by June. There are some vexing details to get through. i’ve had some conversations with both of my sisters, and we are (fortunately) on the same page. Ultimately, i WILL be the only one who knows how it all rolls out. But it will be done according to Mom’s wishes. i really do believe she’d haunt me otherwise! 😉

  4. My mother’s estate was a nightmare. She had undertaken some ‘clever’ and illegal tricks to minimise her taxation liability. Some of them included fraudulently transferring her assets into family members names (without their knowledge) and claiming a non-existent loss.
    I still shudder remembering it. Most of it I did manage to fix. A few shares are still floating in limbo.
    I would have very much liked a lawyer like yours. Devils advocate is fine. I think the second word was absent from the one she selected…

    • So very sorry you had to deal with all that. i found some papers where Mom’s father had done similar things with his assets, except he dragged his three daughters into the scheme. He wasn’t a good person, it turns out, and when he died, there were scrap fights over his money and belongings that were absolutely disgusting. Mom and her two sisters got virtually nothing, after putting their own financial integrity on the line for him.

      Ken is an absolute delight! i have a mad crush on him! We are having a good time working together. This is a man who has seen a lot of ugly behavior, and given the family story he’d been told, expected more of the same from me. He was delighted that i passed the integrity test, and i am so very fortunate he is on the case.

  5. Wiley old Ken — almost teasing with you there, knowing that you’d insist on what Mum had said but just playing you along for a while to see how you reacted to a pot of money being waved in your face. I can’t honestly say that I wouldn’t have been tempted to take the lot and administer it myself. Well done you!

    • Ken is a gem! He was deliberately testing me. He wanted to know who was sitting across the desk from him. He really enjoyed the conversations with Mom. A friend of mine has considered using the Trailer Park Refugee files as the backbone for a teleplay. We discussed who would play Ken, and i am insisting on Kevin Spacey, as Tommy Lee Jones is a bit too old these days. i really do have a mad crush on this man – he is so very smart, he’s clever and funny, and he doesn’t hesitate to call bullshit on me when i call to complain that i’ve found another bank account somewhere. “Oh, you poor thing! Did you just find some more money? How dreadful for you!” i might be in love….

  6. Was he friggin’ kidding? Just testing you? That’s not funny! Who does he think he is? Sheriff Taylor?

    Re: the cash box. That is so old world and charming. But there’s a lesson to be learned. I hope to die BROKE.

    • He just wanted to know if i was anything like the trailer trash that comes to his office on a fairly regular basis. Having heard the family tale from Mom on our previous visits, he wasn’t sure about me. He’s fabulous, and i’m madly in lust with him because of it…

      Ken said it isn’t uncommon for people of that generation to stash a lot of money. One of his clients was very clever – put it all in bars of silver. Rather than hide it, he wrapped each brick in newspaper, then aluminum foil, and used them as door stops. Hidden in plain sight.

      My children will benefit from a decent sized life insurance policy. It is my intention to spend every penny of the rest. If i do this right? My last check will bounce…

  7. Fortunately when my Mum died there was no competition and not that much to sort out – selling her little house was the biggest hassle. My Aunt who’d died about 10 years previously left so little the court wouldn’t entertain even granting probate. Honestly I ended up dividing about a months income between my siblings and I. But still there in the bag recently bought for my son was the bloody great big pirate ship he’d asked her for Christmas and I’d told her was too expensive. She gave it all away with love right to the very end.

    • She sounds like an absolutely lovely woman! What a beautiful gift! It was sweet this year that my niece found gifts Mom had already purchased for us, wrapped them, and shipped them to us all. i’m somewhat thankful that the real estate was directed, because that could have been a night mare. We still have a large storage garage to clear out, but will wait until the weather improves. i’m sure we’ll find a few surprises there…

  8. Dad & I have been going over his will and wishes as he has made some huge changes. The biggest of which is me being sole executor of everything. It’s somewhat daunting, but in the face of recent events, is truly the best thing. My brother will NOT be happy, but this is what DAD wants.
    I’m not looking forward to that day ….

    I like Kens style …..

    • Originally, my oldest sister was sole executor, but my parents added me as co-executor almost 20 years ago. When my sister learned that Mom had removed her as co-executor, she was pretty hurt. After Mom died, i explained that it was because the attorney recommended only one person, as it gets very hard to schedule signature meetings, handle filings, etc. if there have to be two people in the room at the same time. Good luck with your brother. Hoping he understands, at least someday…

  9. One of the reasons I “vanish” from time to time is the need to review some of the intended bequests.Trying to persuade some people that sometimes wills need to be changed, updated. It seems never-ending…
    I’m glad you have such a good lawyer in your corner. And, yes, it could make a very good tv drama.

    • i need to make some serious adjustments in my world. With one child living in Turkey, and the other in the Army, subject to deployments and whatnot, it may not make sense to have them as co-executors. i need to do some thinking. And yes, they should absolutely be updated as needed. It’s not terribly hard…

      One of my retirement ‘jobs’ is going to be getting serious about consolidating all these words out here into something vaguely resembling a memoir. When i started, i thought the arc was to be a tribute to my father. Nope. The evolving relationships within the family are the real story here, and i’m thinking it needs to be told…

    • Aw, thanks, sugar! Talked with Ken again last Friday and i’m falling harder than ever for him! Told him it was my goal to be his most fun client ever – and he said i’d already done it! Making a rotten job fun… sometimes that’s the best you can do.

  10. I was at Savannah Marsh Mama’s blog and thought I might try checking out a blog on her blogroll. I still enjoy blogrolls especially with cream cheese. Anyway – wow what a great post! Your mom knew who to pick as executor. It’s a tough job. You appear to have the most important quality for it. Honesty and no ill will towards the others. My parents are long gone. Our mom left last, almost 25 years ago. She appointed my brother as executor and everything worked out fine. We all get along fine. I felt a little slighted by not being the chosen one but I don’t believe I would have done any better. I didn’t browse over to promote my blog but your post does remind me of post I did about us cleaning up our mom’s house. The post was titled “unexpected treasure”.

    • Hi lisleman! Welcome to The Park! A friend of Savannah’s is always welcome here! No matter how old you are when it happens, it’s always rotten to bury a parent… My siblings and i have a roiling history, much of it chronicled here over the past 8 years as i sort out my personal, and familial, demons. We are now in perhaps the best place we’ve been in decades, with everyone demonstrating tolerance and patience and understanding. Families can be rough… We did excavations on Mom’s house four or five years ago – and it was exhausting! i will DEFINITELY wander over to your blog and find that post… Sometimes it’s nice to know we’re not the first to run into these things! Cheers!

    • Of course! Ken is pretty awesome – he coached Mom to move most of her assets outside the estate to avoid complications. By doing that, he reduced his paycheck – he is mostly paid as a percentage of the value of the estate. i’ve asked him to handle a few other things so i can get more cash to him… turns out, you can’t tip your attorney. i will take him out to dinner once i am no longer a client…

    • Ummmm…. no thanks! There’s a lot of detail work involved, and i’m normally not very diligent with that… Besides, having someone local makes it go much more smoothly – i’m rethinking my own executors. One lives in Turkey and one is many states away, subject to deployment. By having them as co-executors, it means they both have to sign a bunch of crap together. Could really muck up the works. It’s a shame my dog doesn’t have thumbs…

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