Estate Stalls

Below is the reason this blog went ‘dark’ for the last many weeks. While, in retrospect, I probably didn’t need to close the door, I really had to in order to feel safe until my mother’s estate closed. Like mom used to say, “Just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean they’re not after you.” Here’s what transpired:

12/26/2020

This won’t be published until after the estate closes, but I need to write it now… Barf all the details out so they are not churning around in my head, and distracting me from essentially everything else I’d rather be paying attention to. This, of course, starts with a history.

My parents got together… I’m not sure when, but my dad was married to someone else at the time. As my mom tells it, and I extrapolate dates and places, I’m going to guess it was the very late 50’s. My dad and his first wife had two daughters. Then my mom and dad had me in the early 60’s. Dad went on to have a third child with his first wife, also a daughter, about 14-months later. Dad lived kind of a double life from the inception of my parent’s relationship until his first wife divorced him in 1971. My mom and dad married in 1972.

Dad flew to see my half-sisters regularly when I was a kid. They came to see us twice, that I remember. This was probably over a six to eight year period, as our dad’s first wife and my half-sisters moved from a town a couple of counties away back to the southern part of the state. I don’t know exactly when they moved, but assume it was shortly before or after the divorce. When I was 16, we moved to the Island. Being a very self-absorbed teenager, I don’t know how often dad went to see my half-sisters after that. The older two would have been in college at that point, the younger one a year behind me in high school.

My mother left each of my half-sisters a small remembrance in her will. I’m pretty sure it was born of not wanting them to try and contest her will. She did the same for two of my uncles. Every will written by an attorney has a ‘no-contest’ clause, meaning if any person contests the will, they get nothing, nada, zilch. Leaving someone an insulting amount of money in a will in order to dissuade them from coming after the rest of their estate are words ill spent.

My attorney sent out the preliminary paper work to all beneficiaries in July and then ‘receipts’ very early in December. ‘Sign here, and your funds will be dispersed.’ My uncles signed and returned the receipts immediately. My half-sisters did not.

On December 15th my youngest half-sister called. In brief she wanted to know, for all three of them, if I had had conversations with my mother about the contents of her will, about how to structure the will. They had questions. Why hadn’t there been any remembrances for them when dad died? Or for their children? They felt abandoned by our father in life and death. My only reply was that I had driven mom to the attorney’s and was asked to leave the meeting. I had no input to the contents of her will. Also, that when dad passed, everything went to my mother, everything. I listened to the rest, and acknowledged what she said. I heard her… Created space for her.

I can understand my half-sisters feeling left out… (Our father was not exactly loquacious about such matters). However, why didn’t you ask these questions over 7-years ago when our dad passed away? Or talk to him about some of these serious things in the preceding 8.5-years when everyone, dad included, new his time was not guaranteed. And where were y’all when dad was sick for those years? Oh, that’s right, two of you visited him, ONCE. And while he and my mom attended all of your, and your children’s important life-events, when did you exercise your own volition and come up to see him after, say, 1978, 1979, or 1982, when you were all out of high school? That’s a lot of years of being legal adults, being more than capable of forging your own relationships with your father, who spent a lot of time with you when you were kids, and adults. You didn’t forge that relationship. He did, and somehow now you feel left out, abandoned. Do you think a bigger payout from his, or my mother’s, estate would change any of those feelings? No, it wouldn’t. Only therapy, and the work that comes with therapy will mend the abandonment that you feel, and are, as adults, partially responsible for. I am not making excuses for the choices our father made in the late-50’s/early-60’s. You are, however, responsible for the potentiality of the lack of an adult relationship with your dad. He lived until he was 79. There was a lot of time.

So, my half-sisters haven’t signed the ‘receipts’ that are needed before I can cut the checks to the beneficiaries. After my conversation with my younger half-sister on December 15th, I was assured the three of them would talk and get back to me with any further questions. I heard nothing until this morning (12-26) when the same sister texted Christmas greetings. Nothing about moving forward with the business at hand. I am PISSED. I would like to think she is simply letting me know that she values our relationship (as do I), but to say nothing about estate matters is very passive-aggressive.

What do they want? What do they think they’re going to accomplish by not signing the receipts? Being locked and loaded with lawyers, I have run dozens of scenarios to ground.

  • Contest mom’s will… This would be ridiculous for a number of reasons: Mom had testamentary capacity at the creation and signing of her will, she was not influenced in its creation, the deadline for contesting the will has passed (and that’s a hard line as far as the court is concerned), and if they do contest the will, they get nothing.
  • In some other universe if the will was invalidated (the burden of proof being on them), then her prior will takes over. Guess what? There was no prior will, which would leave mom intestate. In our state (in this alternate universe of my creation 😜), that would have me inheriting everything as her only heir. They would receive nothing.
  • Try to insist that our father came to the relationship with separate property, and they should have some part of that property? I have our dad and their mom’s divorce papers. There was no ‘real’ property coming out of that marriage. The only thing listed that might have had value at the time was a three year old VW micro bus and photography equipment. Dad also took on all the debt from his first marriage. As with his marriage to their mom, my mom was the bread winner of the family. My mom owned her house as her separate property, and it’s sale is what provided the down payment for the Island property. They held the Island property as husband and wife, but the funding and ongoing payment source for the property is traceable. Dad was an artist, financial astute, and smart as hell. He was not a high earner. The world is better off for his works, his politics, and his environmental stewardship. The majority of my mom’s estate is due to her career.
  • Angle for our dad’s inheritance from our grandfather… That inheritance was received into an account with both my parent’s names on it, held in joint tenancy. It’s a hard stop. Oh, and all of us grandchildren inherited from our grandfather upon his passing.

1/14/2021

A text from my youngest half-sister, yesterday, letting me know that my oldest half-sister emailed my attorney 12/24 and hasn’t heard back yet affirmed my prior ire expressed in an email I sent to my attorney on January 11th. My eldest half-sister waited three weeks before saying, “Gee, I haven’t heard back” or “Is this the correct email address?” This is what I sent to my attorney on January 11th:

I’m assuming my sisters still haven’t sent the receipts back, or made contact… They haven’t made additional contact with me either except the youngest texting family news on the 26th. If this is the case, I’d like to move on whatever contact you think will encourage them to sign and return the receipts. It’s been almost a month since the youngest contacted me, and January is about half over. Their inaction is not acceptable, no matter what their action might be. It feels Very passive-aggressive at this point. I’m starting to feel held hostage for something I had zero control of 60-years ago. Should they still balk/refuse to sign, can we park their inheritance with the court/state, and then close the estate? Maybe give them a very, very short time frame in which to return the receipts before doing this (if it can be done), if tell them at all? Leave it up to them to petition for it when/if they get through sorting out their issues? My patience is like my blood sugar… It’s fine until it’s gone, and in terms of my sisters, it just left the building.

I am hoping to hear something today from my attorney. If nothing else, what my oldest half-sister wrote to her.

1/15/2021

My attorney never received my oldest half-sister’s email due to it being sent to an incorrect address. I asked for all three of the sisters’ current email addresses, sent them to my attorney who then reached out to them, blind copying me. Shortly thereafter I received another blind copied note, but not the note my attorney was responding to:

Attached is a copy of your step-mother’s Will. There is no filed Inventory required under our state’s probate law. In regard to your father, he didn’t have a Will and because their assets were community property (or jointly owned) all assets passed to his spouse at his death. Please let me know if you have further questions.

It is easy to see that they want to know the value of the estate, and are wanting to see our father’s non-existent Will. The latter I get. The former, well, they are out of luck. If my mom had left percentages of her estate to her beneficiaries, then an inventory would had to have been created, but because she left specific amounts to each person, and the residual to me, no inventory is required. I find their nosiness, in the absence of their active adult relationship with our father abhorrent, especially since my mom’s income is responsible for the majority of their estate.

My attorney then forwarded what she was responding to from my oldest half-sister (note that this letter from my oldest half-sister is written 6-weeks after my attorney initially wrote to them in early December) :

My sisters and I have received you letter dated December 2, 2020 regarding the estate of our step-mother. As a matter of closure for us, we respectfully request a copy of the Will, any accounting or inventories that may be filed or required, and any other wills or documents, including those superseded, related to the estate of our step-mother, and/or our father. Upon receipt of those documents, we each expect to sign the receipt.

She wants prior wills… It’s been pointed out to me that she likely wanted to make sure that my mother didn’t change my father’s wishes, had he put them down on paper, after he died. Fair enough. Knowing about my parent’s minimal estate planning, which my eldest half-sister does not, I am still offended. She wanted to know if I told mom to leave them each very little, essentially have mom disinherit them after her husband died (not a far leap from my youngest half sister asking me if I guided my mother in the creation of her will). It sounds like a soap opera. Maybe I should write the screen play.

1/23/2021

My eldest half-sister’s signed receipt was received today. The youngest’s was received last week.

1/25/21

My middle half-sister’s signed receipt was received today.

1/26/21

I was finally able to write the checks to the beneficiary’s. I emailed my aunt to let her know a check was about to hit the mail for my uncle. She wrote back to tell me that my uncle had already received a check, regarding the estate, from my attorney. Um, NO! I will not belabor you, Dear Reader, with the swift and authoritative email I sent my aunt, and then the entertaining note I sent to my attorney, who invoked her lawyerly moral authority in writing directly to my aunt to tell her that, No she had not sent my uncle a check. For a few hours I thought this next, second to last, step in closing the estate was going to stall out over someone rejecting, rather than seeking, money… My uncle has dementia and my aunt doesn’t question what he tells her… this is called denial. Now that this is resolved (in a matter of hours rather than 8-weeks) I will drop this uncle’s check in the mail tomorrow.

1/27/2021

Final check dropped in the mail today. If it were safe to do so, I’d take a fast 3-day vacation somewhere, on a plane, to a beach where it’s warm. That’s OK. I pow-wowed with our wonderful CPA this afternoon about the complex set of tax returns we have to file for 2020, and then my DH and I enjoyed a crab for dinner.

2/1/2021

Two checks have cleared. My youngest half-sisters and likely my dad’s brother. It was pending today. Tomorrow I’ll get to see the cashed check. I will do a dance when the remaining three checks clear.

2/8/2021

The final two checks to beneficiaries have cleared the estate account. The third one, to my mom’s brother, cleared the middle of last week. On Friday last piece of paperwork will be filed with the court. Probate will automatically close 30-days later. That’s when this post will go live, and when the Blog will open up again.

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