Thursday, March 31, 2016

I am still here ...even though odds would point out that I should not be

This new blog starting in 2016 is my therapy for so much that I ponder most days from my most difficult experiences in life.  Like Thoreau, even from this I must suck out all the marrow in life....

This blog is not for children as the content I share stems from serious subjects like probate, estate theft, family betrayal, family member deaths and legal battles that could have been easily avoided if people simply chose not to be so selfish and instead elected to be more considerate of others.

I promised myself after Rootstech this year , that I would begin this most difficult task and here, today, that is what I am doing.  If you don't have your adult pants on, then do not read the rest of this because the truth is uncomfortable and makes some people who are not prepared for it wince and turn away, but hopefully this may also be of some use to others perhaps trying to deal with similar circumstances because God knows, NO ONE DESERVES WHAT MY SISTER AND I HAVE BEEN THROUGH THUS FAR!

I have honestly written countless pages of my thoughts and insights into our present debacle and who knows if I will include them all or even have time to convert to digital format in my remaining lifetime, but this is what it is about in a nutshell:

People need to do exactly what they say they are going to do and even more so when they put it in writing, which if you don'[t know, is a contract when things of value are offered up for any type of legal exchange.

We have a half brother who didn't at perhaps the most crucial point in our lives when it really mattered most.  Yes it involves a "lot of money" which is code for more than several hundred thousand dollars in inheritance from our grandfather who died in Sep 2000 at age 90. 

Mistakes I would tell you to avoid if you only read this paragraph and walk away to do something else:
*  Contest every last will in your family that :
1. involves significant funds,
2. was executed before you were born,
3. leaves the bulk of the estate to a less than honorable, financially irresponsible or criminal relative
4. doesn't have a clause that excludes anyone who contests
5. if you know ahead of time (before the benefactor is dead) that they also don't currently agree with their own previously very outdated last will.

Had we just had this little advice to follow, we would have avoided what I can fairly refer to as "nearly complete and utter hell on earth"

So what in the world happened to put us in this painfully uncomfortable position?  Just 10 Key Things...

1.  Our mother died in Feb 1999 suddenly following ovarian cancer surgery - she was an only child who thought her parents then 90 and 85 were destitute and shared that concern with my sister and I.

2. Our father died on Father's Day in Jun 1999 and their home mostly paid for was the bulk of their assets which had to be sold and the mortgage had to be paid off before distribution.  By the way, they both disowned our half brother in their last wills, but he didn't find out until after Dad died because everything of Mom's simply went to Dad.  They included the clause that anyone who would contest their last will would receive no benefit from their estate whatsoever and simply that our half brother was being specifically excluded "for reasons of which he is aware" which could include a multitude of bad, immoral, and even several illegal choices he made since leaving home that night he was caught showing me at age eight how to separate marijuana seeds from leaves.

3. The day after my sister and I put the house up for sale, arranged an auction for all of the unwanted contents or ones that weren't more than generously shared with our half brother, he called to notify me our mother's mother Nana" had died in the nursing home.   He informed me he was basically unable to afford the money for gas, meals, and lodging to drive the 10+ hours from Sterling to Miles City, MT.  He had his own sign business since 1993 and apparently  it was on the verge of failing is what he appeared to be saying and he couldn't reach my sister to notify her.

4.  Once we reached my sister and told her, she and I agreed that since he had been raised by Nana and Papa for several years as a young boy, it was the right thing to help him and get him some quick transportation to MT and some spending money for food while we were all up there for the funeral, burial, and 3rd round of estate affairs to deal with.   I was coming from Dover AFB, DE in my last year of nearly 8 years of service and my sister was in her last year of her Doctorate studies and work at Rice in Houston, TX so since it was easiest with all of us flying in to Billings, I bought a ticket for our half brother and my sister agreed to split the cost with me.  This was never a loan, but a gift of decency - clearly the right thing that reasonable people do for relatives in such shared emotionally difficult times.

5.  While on the subject of decency, my sister and I had briefly discussed actually paying our disowned half brother $10,000 after our father's estate closed, with the mutual understanding that it certainly came with the one condition mean we would be replacing them as his replacement go to folks since our parents he had mooched off of for over two decades of his adult life were both now gone.  Mom had been a legal secretary for a probate attorney for numerous years and had actually called in a work favor through her connections and spared our half brother from a prison sentence following his third felony under the three strikes habitual offender law.  It had been years since he had gone off drugs and couldn't afford any further legal run ins.

6.  After flying up to MT, Nana's funeral and burial in late August 1999, the three of us and my wife drove to our grandfather "Papa's" accountant's office to see how long or if he could even afford to stay at Friendship Villa Nursing home where my sister and our half brother had been forced to put them after a summer visit to check on how they were doing indicated they couldn't care for themselves and one another safely anymore at their residence.  Dorothy Doran was their CPA at Stallard and Associates and witnessed later key events that merit her specific name and employer here to document involvement in this matter should it be of use to future clients.  This part is almost unbelievable and painfully ironic, but the dynamics of overprotective parents with only one child makes sense with some hindsight:  Dorothy revealed to the four of us that Nana and Papa had in fact earned $42,000 in interest on their investments in 1998.  Yes - jaws dropped and popped audibly.  Our mother was completely wrong thinking they were nearly destitute because she managed to find out they had cashed in a CD during her last trip to MT for a class reunion.  My sister was already doing the math and asked Dorothy to confirm that at just 5% annual interest that would put their investments valued at over $800,000 which Dorothy confirmed adding that none of us need to worry at all about Papa affording his current place of care.  The next stop was obviously their Attorney's office for the reading of Nana's last will.  We arrived, met their elderly attorney Bruce Brown of Brown and Huss P.C. (again naming names for key future reference and benefit to others who may have business with this firm) and were seated and asked to wait for him to pull their file.  The wait grew unexpectedly long and finally Bruce emerged with a puzzled look on his face as he apologized to us for the wait but that he was unable to locate their file that had both of their wills in it and was also puzzled because the index card system they had to track when wills were checked out to clients didn't have any record of them taking it out either.  He reassured us that he recalled drafting their wills which had been signed and witnessed years prior and suggested we go to their residence and search as well as check their safe deposit box at their bank - one of the two would turn up the documents.  While my sister, my wife and I discussed the oddness of first discovering unexpected wealth and then wills unusually not being on file, our half brother started to worry that someone may have tricked them somehow and that their wealth wasn't safe.  my sister and I reassured him  that CPA Dorothy was clearly doing a fine job of keeping good track of their investments for her annual price to do just that and that large assets like that were certainly in FDIC insured accounts with understandably restricted access.  My sister dropped my wife and I off at the house to search while her and our half brother would return in the rental vehicle to the bank identified by Dorothy as their primary financial institution.

7. Nothing turned up in their safe deposit box at the bank, but I found an unlocked lock box in one room of the home.  The box contained copies of three last wills only - no originals.  Before I note what they stated, it is key to first clarify our respective years of birth to put matters in chronologically legal context.  Our half brother was mother's first child born in 1962 and adopted by our father in 1966 or 1967 shortly after our parents were married.  My sister was born next in 1968 and I came along a couple years later in 1970.  The first pair of copies of last wills both signed, dated and witnessed, were from 1967 but before my sister was born and listed the following heirs:

Primary - each other as living spouses
Secondary - daughter (predeceased them both)
Tertiary - their only grandson

The other copy of one of their last wills, unsigned and unwitnessed, was from 1968 after my sister was born and listed the following heirs:

Primary - each other as living spouses
Secondary - their daughter who predeceased them both
Tertiary - both their grandson and granddaughter in equal shares

So - life is not without a disturbing level of legal irony.  The nutshell version is that our older half brother who then suddenly and completely unexpectedly eventually stood to likely inherit over $800,000 chose the strange path of bargaining with that new found financial leverage with my sister and I to get money not only sooner from our Father's estate, but also agreed to put it in writing just for a crack at the at most $100,000 remainder after our CO home for so many years was sold.  The trick is that his offer to even bargain with this obviously much larger eventual inheritance was also a clever con/ploy/diversion/distraction/deception/fraud/ etc. to convince us both not to exercise our unlimited clearly well known to all three rights to contest the very outdated wills that obviously unintentionally excluded my sister and I.   You see, the problem for  our half brother was that our Papa was 89 going on 90 but physically pretty healthy and seemed to have his mental wits mostly about him as well.  Need I mention he had a laryngectomy from smoking in 1973 and sounded quite a bit like the TV character Donald Duck as a result whenever  he spoke?  He was also emotionally suffering like us - a recent widower who had lost his only child and daughter just months earlier - not a loved one you want to drag through a probate battle if at all possible!

8.  Hindsight is especially 20-20 after you ave been betrayed by family and had only a court battle to try and remedy such a matter legally.  We took him up on his offer only if he was willing to put it in writing to avoid confusion, acrimony, and misunderstanding (FAILED on ALL 3).  We honored our end of the agreement allowing him a third of what even his own mother decided he certainly was not entitled to.  He did begin to honor his end of the agreement allowing each of us our fair thirds of our grandmother's disclaimed amount and the fair thirds from an early disbursement from our Papa's estate before his death in Sep 2000.  Afterwords and particularly after he acknowledged his obligation to continue honoring as witnessed by the second estate attorney George "Jerry" Huss (since Bruce Brown predeceased our Papa).  This acknowledgement was crucial to keep us both again from exercising our then still unlimited rights to contest in case he communicated any change of heart or mind which he cleverly did not until well after probate and after the Lions share of the estate funds were in his control.  This was the epitome of an inheritance hijacking!

9.  What matters most - is clearly not what any of us grand kids wanted, but instead what Papa told Bruce and Dorothy he wanted.  He stated repeatedly in their visit that his will that left everything to  his eldest grandchild only was not right and it must be changed and only our older half brother refused to let Papa change or destroy the copy of his 1967 last will.  My sister and I were not fools and we did ask our Papa on what would turn out to be our last visit with him before he died.  Conveniently, our older half brother was in the restroom at the nursing home, but it was short, simple, and very reasonable - when asked how he wanted his estate distributed after he was gone from this life, he only answered that he wanted all three of us taken care of equally by what remained after he was gone.  Phase two of a legal battle has begun and we are not our mother with any concern whether he ends up in prison for this deliberate and selfish hijacking of what only our grandfather should have had the right to decide since he earned it, he saved it, and he wisely invested it - NOT his eldest grandson.

10.  In a world where those who do right are not only perpetually punished but also emotionally tortured in the perpetuity of such a deeply personal betrayal as I have described and lived through herein, if no justice with meaningful and severe consequences can be found in a court of law, then the courts fail to represent any real justice for the common man and woman, their children, and their grandchildren, and so on..  Examples have to be made of offenders of the law in the justice system on a regular basis even if they are the worst ones anyone could ever follow because even the stars need darkness to shine - so be it -  for the alternative resolution to this continually painful clashing chord of two closely adjacent tones must come to it's welcome end so two lives forever scarred can actually go on in any sense of what was once labelled and enjoyed as some semblance of normalcy.