Two weeks after I became an attorney my dad passed away unexpectedly.I got the call from my mother at 10pm on a Wednesday night. They had been divorced for only six months, and she was notified first. I had been scooping ice cream with my boyfriend as a late-night treat. This particular ice cream was one of our new favorites – Haagen Dazs Coconut Pineapple. We were celebrating my new job that I had just started on Monday.
As I listened to my mother I began to feel nauseated. I started putting the ice cream away, threw the scoop and the half-full bowls in the freezer, and hung up the phone. My boyfriend and I grabbed our coats and drove to my mother’s house.
There are a lot of legal issues that come along with death, and being the only attorney in my family (for a whopping two weeks), I knew that I would be handling a lot of them. In the days after my dad died my brother and I went to his condo and picked up some of the important things. We picked up the mail, his cell phone, and his wallet. He didn’t have a lot; he certainly wasn’t rich. He did have a condo, some small savings, and some heirlooms that had been passed down from my grandmother when she died a decade earlier.
In law school we learned about wills and trusts, and powers of attorney. But no classroom lesson compares to a real life experience. If my dad had done some basic planning we would have avoided so much complication and stress at a time when my family was already heartbroken.
Having just graduated from law school I knew that there were some legal issues looming – did my dad have a will? Who was going to get all of his stuff? More importantly, who was going to deal with all of the stuff that no one wanted? I searched his condo. I went through drawers, cabinets, his nightstand, I even asked neighbors. No one knew anything about a will. One neighbor who was a friend of my dad’s said she thought he had one, but we couldn’t find it.
And so began the task of cleaning up my dad’s estate. It was messy. It involved several lawyers (myself included), a CPA, and the probate court. I filed a lot of paperwork and made a lot of trips to Goodwill. My siblings and I ended up selling the condo and, pursuant to state law, we inherited my dad’s small estate in equal shares. The whole process took about two and-a-half years.
In law school we learned about wills and trusts, and powers of attorney. But no classroom lesson compares to a real life experience. If my dad had done some basic planning we would have avoided so much complication and stress at a time when my family was already heartbroken. We would have known whether or not my dad wanted to be cremated (for the record, we cremated him and buried him in the graveyard adjacent to our house – he had always joked about moving there someday). My youngest sister’s portion of his estate would have gone into a small trust for her to pay for college. And we would have saved about $6,000 on attorney’s fees. There were times during the process that I was angry with my dad for not having an estate plan. I was angry at him for not thinking of us (or me) and what we would have to endure.
Exactly 1 year, 5 months, and 26 days after he died, and before his estate was even closed, I left my job and started this law practice with the intention of helping other families avoid this scenario. Almost four years later, my husband (the same guy who helped me throw the Haagen Dazs back in the freezer and drove me to my mom’s house) joined me in practice. We help families of all shapes and sizes avoid estate related issues. If you don’t have an estate plan, we can probably help you, too.