Today Ranked As One of the Worst Days of My Life

Today ranked as one of the worst days of my life. And yet, like most “worst” days, there were glimmers of humanity at its most compassionate. There were annoyances, too, of course, that make worst days even more undignified, like sitting on the tarmac at LAX for 45 minutes before taking off, then standing in line at the car rental for nearly an hour, which gave me unneeded extra time to stew about how my day might go. I had several things to accomplish during the few hours I was in Vegas to deal with my dad’s death, but my only scheduled appointment was to meet the lawyer representing his estate at dad’s house so I could gather a few photographs and my books that I’d given him. Since I’m inheriting the house and its contents, it’s reasonable to assume I could just go in and retrieve these things that are eventually mine anyway. But, dad erred in placing his sister as the executor of the will — a mistake the lawyer who wrote the will and is now representing the estate should have flagged. But, the lawyer makes additional money when she cleans up her own ambiguities — and she continues to run the clock by ginning up controversy. So there I stood in the searing heat outside the home I helped my dad create waiting for a lawyer I’d never met to permit me to bring home photos of him that I’d given him. The lawyer insisted on “inventorying” each item. When I attempted to take dad’s 8-year-old dinosaur of a laptop — that had already been stripped clean of its contents by my dad’s sister when she was here last week — the lawyer forbid it, saying it had monetary value. When I protested, she called the police. I wanted it for Abdullah, the former Iraqi refugee who is helping me in Baghdad. The computer has no value to any American, but could change a life for an Iraqi. In a heated moment of defiance, I grabbed the laptop, dashed to my car and sped off. Here’s the irony: The lawyer will bill the estate for her time — which means she’s billing me, since I get everything left in the estate after all lawyers’ fees are paid. But she represents my dad’s sister, the executor, a woman I haven’t seen in over 40 years. This lawyer’s way of offering her condolences for my loss was to send a terse email reminding me she’s billing me to send me the email. So, there I was, racing down the street in my cherry red Mustang (honestly, the cheapest rental they had), blending in like a 6’2″ German in Japan, not worrying a bit about the cops since it took them nearly 3 hours to respond to my SOS call when dad was AWOL before they found his body

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(another horrible day). I mean, really, just who is going to make a big deal about an 8-year-old laptop that weighs enough to cause a hernia? As I pulled into the County Health Department (to get death certificates; my dad’s sister forbid the funeral home from giving me any), my cell rang and my lawyer (I’ve had to hire my own lawyer to deal with the legal crooks handling the estate) calmly read me the riot act — and the law. He said I needed to return the laptop. Standing in line at the County Health Dept, applying for my dad’s death certificates, was the moment I began to lose it. The county employee, flanked by signs declaring a “no cellphone zone,” kindly let me carry on my negotiation with my lawyer while she completed the paperwork. My face crumpled when she handed me the certificates. “I guess it’s official,” I sniffled, tears streaming. “I’m sorry,” I swiped my drippy nose. “I’m sorry,” she said softly. Kindly. “Stand off to the side and read this carefully to make sure everything is correct. We can only make changes today.” I squeaked a thank you and tried to read the certificate. My mascara was clumping. My cell rang again. I sat on a bench and tried unsuccessfully to hold it together while my lawyer related the latest in The Great Laptop Negotiation. After several calls, we agreed I’d return the laptop to his office that afternoon. I barely made it to the County Health Dept’s ladies’ room before I broke down. I balanced my folder of papers on the mini-shelf shielding the toilet paper and perched on the toilet. I cried for the first time since my dad died three weeks ago. Really cried. Deep sobs that honor the place he holds in my heart. It didn’t last long: This was too pathetic a place to grieve. Besides, I had to return that stupid laptop that my dad had never even used. As I stood up, I knocked over my thick folder of carefully accumulated statements, notes and papers and watched in bemused horror as a chunk fell into the toilet bowl. Fuck, fuck. Fuck! What further indignities? I thought, falling to my hands and knees to fish out bank statements and gather scattered papers from the dirty floor. Just then, four little hands from the other side of the stall’s partition pushed papers toward me. I’d been vaguely aware that there were others in the ladies’ room, but I hadn’t paid much attention. Here were two little kids reacting the way kids do when they get scared and want to help when an adult loses it. They were gone by the time I got everything together and left the stall to attempt to dry my papers under the electric hand dryer. But their tiny act of compassion reconnected me with all that’s right and good in the world. I spent the day before my trip trying to figure out how to get a special notary stamp for papers I needed for

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one of dad’s accounts. Yesterday was his birthday; he’d have been 76. I started with his bank in Vegas. Since I’m not their customer, they couldn’t offer the notary service. But Danielle, a perky, dedicated assistant manager, called me back several times over the course of two hours with questions and ideas to see how she could help me. Finally, we decided that the fact I have a credit card with her bank would suffice. Today, I sat with Danielle for an hour, face puffy from crying, my soggy folder blotting her desk, while she deftly handled the paperwork. “I don’t recognize his name,” she mused. “I wonder if he came in here.” “He really didn’t use this branch.” I’d been referred to her because she could handle the notary duties. Nevertheless, I pulled out dad’s photo from my purse. She smiled and teared up. I saw goose pimples rising on her forearms and I started to tear up again. “I’m sorry,” she looked at me earnestly. “He was always so friendly.” I thought of my dad, so frail lately as he hauled his portable oxygen in the basket on his walker, but so robust in his “How are you today?” emphatic greeting. Years ago, I threatened to get him a T-shirt reading “Equal Opportunity Hugger” because he never failed to make friends in any and every line he stood in, never failed to make the person in front of him feel like the smartest, most important person in the room. Without even opening his arms, dad knew how to hug. We live our lives and I guess at some point we hope we make a difference. At some point, we resign ourselves that we won’t cure cancer or build a better light bulb. But maybe we’ll smile a little more and make our immediate world a wee bit brighter. My dad sure did. # # # # #

6 Responses to “Today Ranked As One of the Worst Days of My Life”

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  1. Maureen Bellinger says:

    Oh, Kelly, I am so sorry you lost your dad and damn the lawyers, etc. etc. etc. Thank goodness you can still see the good in the little things in life. Like the little hands helping with the papers on the restroom floor……..ICK! Steve and I are looking forward to following your blog with you on your journey. And, what a journey it will be.

  2. Kelly, I’m so sorry to hear about your dad and the lawyer-mess. And I agree with Mo….how great you can focus in on the good bits among the painful ones. I’m so glad you can move on so quickly into another realm of your life adventure. I hope London and Iraq will be fulfilling and exciting. And your note is a wake-up call for me. Thanks. I just turned 76 on July 2 and I guess I’d better be sure everything is in order in my e
    state as well. Have a great trip. Much love, Rita

    • Thanks, Rita! You’re such an inspiration to me!

      So, please, allow me to inspire you to not only have your will/trust/power of attorney/medical proxy done, but DOUBLE-CHECKED. We’ve been (properly, in my opinion) ingrained to ask for second opinions when it comes to medical issues, but not when it comes to legal issues.

      Here’s what typically happens: Someone (my dad) gets a will done. Dad shopped around and got a $99 special for a will/durable power of attorney/medical proxy. Person dies. Family, grief-stricken, goes to that attorney to read the will, WITHOUT (of course) shopping around to see who might handle the estate and probate most efficiently. Who can do that when they’re in shock and grief?

      So, Ms. $99 signs the client to handle probate, at a higher than usual, but not illegal cost, and adds on extras when she senses tension among the heirs. She actually pits the heirs against each other, so she can overbill. And she uses the ambiguity in the will she drew up to create this mess.

      Moral? GET A SECOND LEGAL OPINION ON YOUR WILL! Don’t leave your heirs at the mercy of a lawyer who may exploit their grief and confusion. It’s a couple of hundred dollars. I’d have GLADLY paid that while my dad was alive had I known. I’ve now spent a couple of THOUSAND dollars trying to unravel this. And this is not what my dad would have wanted. He would not have wanted his elderly, infirmed sister this upset and he would not have wanted me distracted from my trip to Iraq — which dad totally supported. He could never have anticipated how his lawyer would create controversy using her own ambiguous language in the will.

      I’ve since shown dad’s will to 2 different lawyers who said they would have flagged the ambiguities and written his will more clearly. So, Rita, and anyone reading this, please, please, please consult a second opinion about your will so you can save your loved ones this pain. your inheritance should be going to the people and causes you love, not to shady attorneys who perpetuate conflict!

      Love, Kelly

  3. Susan Scolastico says:

    Hi Kelly, just want to add my condolences on the loss of your father. It sounds like you inherited his ability to touch other people and brighten their day. I can only imagine how proud he was of you. I hope that laptop finds a good home.


  4. Jerry says:

    Sorry for your loss, Kelly. Pinches abogados. Take care of yourself.