Monday, August 27, 2007

I Hear Woodie Guthrie Singing

Woody Guthrie, the legendary Oakie Folkie, wrote, “This Land Is Your Land, This Land is My Land. From California, to the New York Island.” In a different song, he also wrote, “Some will rob you with a six-gun, and some with a fountain pen.”

An article from a Mobile, Alabama, newspaper reports that a lawyer down there has been found guilty in a malpractice suit for his handling of a will and estate, and the judgment against him was $1.2 million. It always makes my heart rejoice when I learn about some fountain pen stick up man who gets knocked down for a ten count.

When my Daddy died, I was told his Last Will and Testament appointed his lawyer as Executor of the estate. I could barely recognize my Daddy’s signature on the will, but he was already dying in the care of the nuns at the hospice when he signed it. The will was witnessed by the signatures of the lawyer’s wife and her cousin.

I did not even realize my Daddy had an estate. He had an extensive collection of tools, which he had maintained carefully over the years. Before he got sick enough to take to his bed, he insisted that I go through the tools and take whatever I wanted. It was an impressive and full collection, including many tools especially designed for the repair of air conditioning equipment, which was his trade. I won’t say that I did not covet the tools. However, picking over them as he stood watch made me very uncomfortable. I could remember as a child being unable to resist reaching for one of his tools and his saying sternly, “Boy, now don’t touch that.”

After the funeral, it began to come to my attention that my Daddy’s estate actually amounted to something. He owned a house in Cornelia, Ga., and held the mortgage note on another, between Ansley Park and Morningside in Atlanta. The house he lived in was filled with furniture passed down enough generations to qualify as true antiques. He had a car with two rows of back seats, paid for and still new, as well as a boat with the best outboard engine made. There were also a two life insurance policies, a savings account, and some certificates of deposit.

When my Daddy first took sick, one of my sisters stayed with him for a while. Daddy’s health went rapidly downhill after the death of his wife, my stepmother. My sister prepared my stepmother’s clothes to send to the Salvation Army, and after she began to find money, folding money, including $100 bills, tucked away in the pockets of jackets and in purses, she searched through everything carefully. My Daddy and his wife were survivors of The Great Depression of the 1930’s, and they hoarded things and stashed stuff in hiding places.

Before his death, Daddy had explicitly instructed me to take responsibility for his bank safety deposit box. He admonished me about my sisters, “You do right by the girls.” The day after his funeral, I phoned the lawyer to schedule a trip to the bank to clean out the safety deposit box. “Oh, I’ve already taken care of that,” the lawyer informed me. “There wasn’t nothing in it but some insurance papers and property deeds.” Some days later we had the reading of the will, and the lawyer presented me documents to sign releasing him from bond and waiving any claim whatsoever against him for any liability ever conceived by mankind.

I heard Woody Guthrie singing.

Copyright 2007 by William C. Cotter

1 comment:

Tina said...

Whew! And that's why I have a will and have both health and financial power-of-attorney papers already done, and I have both my sister's name and my younger daughter's name as co-signatories on my bank account so they can write checks for me if necessary.
My 82-year old uncle had a good lawyer who advised him correctly & helped him set up a "living trust" into which his assets were placed. This working fine. Now that he is in a nursing home, his trust sends money to his bank account, and I, as his power-of-attorney, write the checks for his expenses.


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