Monday, July 1, 2013

44. Her Last Wishes

Some people might call me a thief. I prefer to call myself a re-distributor of assets. What would you call me?

My Great Aunt Claire was the last of three elderly sisters to die. None of them had married or had children, so Claire inherited what few assets her sisters left. Now the question was what to do with Claire's (and her sisters') remaining assets. She named no executor, but since I lived next door to their home and had helped them in many ways, including fighting with the tax assessor to get their ridiculous taxes reduced, my siblings and cousins decided I would be the perfect person to handle all the minutiae that occurs after a death.

I dealt with the funeral home, cemetery officials, death certificates, and I notified social security and her pension plan of her death. Because I was on her checking account I was able to pay all her last bills. Until a person dies you have no idea how much work is involved in ensuring the deceased can lie easy in her grave.

Although I was sad Aunt Claire died, it was true she lived a long and full life, happy I don't know. But she was 101 when she fell into eternal sleep. She and her sisters must have baked a million German chocolate cookies for me and the others who stole them from my cookie tin in the night. I was glad to do whatever I could to help settle her affairs.

Claire and her sisters had one charity they supported as much as they could with their meager earnings, Mercy Childrens' Home. Since she left no will, no provision had been made for any last donation to help children who needed a home. As 'executor' it was my job to make sure all her funds in her bank accounts or from the sale of her house and household goods were divided equally among her heirs—myself, my siblings, and my cousins.

I was able to do all that without problems, and, even more amazing, without any fighting among all of us cousins. I had heard horror stories of families split apart over the tiniest inheritances or even over a worthless coin collection.

The only glitch was when I was doing a final walk through the house before meeting with the buyers to turn over the keys. We showed the house furnished as the realtor thought that would make it easier for potential buyers to envision how furniture would fit in the rooms. But after a sales contract was signed, we had an estate sale and anything that wasn't sold was given to the Salvation Army, after all the heirs had chosen anything they wanted, drawing numbers to determine in what order they would choose. I tell you, it's details, details, details when someone dies.

I was walking through the house, remembering good times our family had shared. None of us would ever forget the Thanksgiving dinner when the aunts told us they had cooked the turkey the day before to save time. No one said a word but it was the driest turkey we ever ate.

I fondly thought of the little odd things people sometimes did as they got older. That brought to mind my own parents and what they told me when I helped them clean out our family home before their move to a warmer climate. It was a very old house and still had hot and cold air registers in the floor.

My father whispered to me, “Don't forget to get the money out of the cold air registers.”

“What?” Did I just hear him say 'money in the registers'?

“You heard me,” he muttered. “Check all the cold air registers.”

I took the grate off the one in the living room. In it were three cigar boxes filled with $20 bills. The same with the dining room and master bedroom. My parents had squirreled away $2,000.

My husband said to my father, “So that's why you were always asking for my empty cigar boxes.”

“My gosh,” I yelled. “If there'd been a fire, all of this would've been lost. Or if you'd died we'd have sold it not knowing about this money.”

That was when the light bulb turned on, so they say. I started checking the cold air registers in Claire's old house. The final tally was $3,500. And no one knew about this except me. What should I do? What would you do? If I told the other heirs they would want a share of it, especially Hilary who just had a darling baby girl.

I had a few qualms about it but I did what I thought was the right thing. I deposited the cash in my checking account. Then I wrote a check for the total amount to Mercy Childrens' Home. Perhaps the other heirs would have agreed but perhaps not. I didn't want to take a chance with fulfilling what I'm sure would have been my great aunts' last wishes.

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