After dad’s death, I was accused of manipulating him into giving me what he gave me, and becoming the trustee of his estate. Of taking advantage of him in his weakened, drugged state. Here’s what actually happened, to get it out of my head, and for posterity.
In July of 1998, a few months after my wedding (perspective: I’ve been married over 21 years now), mom and dad created their trust. I have no idea what arrangements they had, if any, prior to that date, as I’ve not come across anything.
In that original trust, first, of course, everything from personal goods to money, to medical decisions was left to each other. One exception, dad left some specific items to folks, and mom left money and her vehicle (whatever was “her” vehicle at the time) to her son from a previous marriage, Robert. Then, should both pass, two friends were left as co-trustees until I came of age, and then I was to co-trustee with one of those friends. Once they were both gone, certain dollar amounts went to various family members, friends, and organizations, after which, the rest of their estate and personal goods came to me. Should I be gone at that time, that would go to my children, should I have any (at the time we didn’t). I didn’t know about this trust.
Over time, like, a decade, my mom had gotten sick a few times seriously, so I asked what they wanted, and what their arrangements were. My mom didn’t want to discuss it, but gave me the trust to read and let me know the location. And there things stood.
A couple years after mom died, I did pressure dad into reading it. Having read it myself, I had a suspicion he didn’t actually know what was in it. Mom had a tendency to do whatever the hell she wanted and then shove papers under dad’s nose to sign. So, I confronted him with that fact, which he agreed was the case, and told him he needed to read it. He refused. He asked me, instead, to write up a cliff’s notes version – a cheat sheet – that just told him the facts without the legal jargon.
Side note: I strongly suspect that dad had an undiagnosed learning disability of some sort.
And so, I did. I just took a piece of paper and wrote down who got what, and who was in charge, and what would happen if medically incapacitated, etc. I told him, if he didn’t want changes, cool, all this would stay as it stood. So think – when you pass, is this what you want? There were two changes I knew for sure *should* happen, but if it didn’t, that was fine. One of the co-trustees was no longer doing estate work (however, the date had already passed for me to take her place), and Robert had passed away before mom. And there was one item that HAD to be updated. They hadn’t mentioned who should make medical decisions once one of the spouses had passed. The language made it seem like the trustee/s would, but I wasn’t clear on that one, as the medical power-of-attorney seemed to be a different bit in the document.
But, as I suspected, he definitely wanted to make some changes. He didn’t want the charity mentioned to receive the funds prior. He’d had a bad run-in with them after mom died. He had changed his mind on who he wanted to have the specific items in his will portion. He didn’t want the friends mentioned to receive the money mentioned as he’d not spoken to them in a decade. And he didn’t want the co-trustee to touch anything, as this person had begun their descent into dementia. The changes he wished to make made sense, and more importantly, the changes were what he wanted.
I strongly believe that the person who earned the stuff gets to determine where it goes. If they don’t make arrangements, fine, to court we go to make decisions, but that’s just irresponsible in my opinion. But if you DO make arrangements, then you get to determine your estate.
There was one point that I absolutely pressured him on, and have no regrets doing so. His medical power-of-attorney – in other words – the person making medical decisions on his behalf should he be incapacitated. He wanted to list a friend, who was just as old as him (early 80’s) and lived 3,000 miles away. That seemed stupidly impractical to me. When I confronted him on it, I realized his understanding was skewed. He thought he needed to list a medical person, and he didn’t know any doctors, and this person had a Doctorate in Nursing so he felt she was the most qualified. I explained that this wasn’t about medical knowledge. He would have his own doctors and medical team exactly like he does now… This was for someone to make decisions that he would want because he couldn’t. Someone who knew his wishes, etc. It was about making happen what he wanted when he couldn’t tell them himself. I very strongly wanted to be that person. I felt I was best qualified (I was the only who made him have the “hard” conversations), and knew from a practical perspective I’d be helping him health-wise anyway. Once he understood the purpose, he agreed with me.
I can honestly say that was the only point I had undue influence on. He did bounce ideas off me, and I helped him form the pros/cons of various things, but the truth is, my dad is pretty wishy washy. And I purposefully didn’t help all that much so that the ultimate choices he made were his.
It took over a year for him to make his decisions. He asked me to write up those changes, so he could find a lawyer and make it happen, but not think about it on the spot. He found his own lawyer (I believe it was a friend’s of his, so he got a referral), and went off to make whatever changes he wanted. I was not present for that. I did take him to his finalization meeting, where he was going to sign everything, but I wasn’t in the room. And the only interaction I had with the attorney was to ask how I accomplish my duties as trustee after death? And he told me to just get in touch with him and he’d walk me through it when the time came.
This was all a couple years before his diagnosis – and the changes were minor from their 1998 version – and if anything – was more generous to family members than the previous version.
There was one change he made after his diagnosis. He wanted to help LA, his homeless son I mentioned in a previous post. He was leaving a specific dollar amount to him in his trust – however – he thought he could use the help in present rather than future. But at the same time he didn’t want to give him a hand out. So – he went to his attorney and fashioned an addendum in which LA would be receiving his inheritance early, in a monthly dispersal under certain conditions, and that amount was deducted from what he was to receive after dad’s death. LA signed, agreeing to the changes. I was in that meeting as dad asked me to. Dad wasn’t a really great communicator, and wanted to make sure that the terms were completely communicated to LA. He also made me do the dispersals and the paperwork that LA signed, because I’m good at those kind of details. And so we did all that. Dad died 5 months later.
After dad’s death, I did every.single.thing. mentioned in the trust. And in fact, under my authority as trustee, I gave more than required – such as vehicles given – because I had many, many conversations with dad about what he wanted after death.
I was still lambasted.
But I know, with absolute certainty, I did what was legally required of me. I know, with absolute certainty, I did what dad wanted. Period.
I’ll get more into the specifics I ran into later. But I know I did the right thing by my dad, and it was my dad’s stuff. It’s terribly sad that it caused me to be shunned from the family (more to come on that) but is more a reflection on who these people are than myself.