“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?”
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…”
*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.