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Sunday, July 12, 2009

My Brother Died Without A Will

Dying Intestate: My Brother Died Without A WillI hate getting surprise letters from lawyers I've never heard of. I got one the other day, from a lawyer in Massachusetts. I took a deep breath (yeah, I really hate these letters) and opened it.

The letter was from a lawyer who is currently representing my brother's wife. We'll call her Jane. My brother -- we'll call him Larry -- died a couple of months ago. He had heart disease. He'd had quadruple bypass surgery years ago after his first heart attack. Back in May of this year, he was sitting at his desk at work, when he suddenly started to complain about pain in his chest. He collapsed, and died before the paramedics arrived. He was a good man and he will be missed by many.

So, back to this letter. It was a "General Assent" document that needed my signature in two places, and I needed to find a witness who would be willing to sign this letter as well. I'm an intelligent guy, but I never went to law school, so I sometimes find legal wording and phrasing somewhat esoteric. I was not able to comprehend what this lawyer wanted from me. The letter might as well have been written in Cantonese. I will now transcribe the important parts of this document:

"...In the mater [sic - I guess this lawyer doesn't check for typos] of the 'Estate of [LARRY]'

I [ME], of [MY TOWN], [MY STATE], being a party interested in the above matter hereby consent to the allowance of the same by the Probate and Family Court for this County and request that the same be granted without further notice..."

In the document, I am asked to sign off on the above statement.

What?

On the same page, but in a separate statement, I am then asked to sign off on this:

"...I [ME], of [MY TOWN], [MY STATE], do hereby release and forever discharge the said 'Estate of LARRY' from all debts and liabilities whatsoever which I now have for or on account of the 'Estate of LARRY' and further consent to the allowance of the Petition-account and appointment described above..."

After reading the letter, I search around the Internet to see if I could find pertinent and instructive information about General Assent matters. I didn't find anything useful. I then called the lawyer who sent the letter and got an answering machine three times. The next day, I tried calling again, and, thankfully, the lawyer who sent the letter answered.

I asked what the letter was about and he explained that the letter was asking me to agree to letting Jane have control of and execute Larry's estate, or, in other words, to agree to make her the executrix of my brother's estate. I was confused as to why this was necessary, since I was certain that my brother had all his estate matters sorted out after his first heart attack. The lawyer then told me the unsettling truth: my brother died without leaving a will, also known as dying intestate.

This revelation was a shock to me because my brother was a financially savvy guy. He would often complain about how our father, who had a decent amount of knowledge regarding money and finance, never took the time to teach his kids about money. He saw this as my dad just being lazy, which vexed Larry quite a bit. It motivated Larry to take financial matters -- big and small -- seriously. So, no will? Doesn't make sense.

OK, so I asked the lawyer why I needed to sign off of this executrix appointment and he explained that all blood relatives must do so. He told me that Jane won't be able to get access to Larry's bank accounts until all the probate stuff had been sorted out.

And that's why it's so important to have a will, especially if your total assets exceed your debts and liabilities. By the time all is said and done, and all the lawyers have been paid, the cost of my brother dying intestate will probably be enormous. Yup. Even if you're under 30 years old and have a net worth of $10,000, make a will, even if it's a simple one. Unless, of course, you like the idea of paying lawyers and judges to make your estate decisions for you when you are gone, and you like the idea of having a significant portion of your estate eaten up by court/legal fees.

Jane and I don't get along at all. Never have. But, of course, that's no reason to hold up this particular legal process. There are two boys involved, my nephews, and both are still at an age where they are relying on Jane financially.

I am hoping that my brother at least had a decent amount of life insurance before he passed.

Now, regarding the General Assent letter: I find it very annoying that Jane's name was not mentioned anywhere in the letter. That's what confused me. Had her name been inserted into the sentences of the above-transcribed statements, logically and appropriately, I would have understood what the document was about. Lawyers! They write documents like this so that non-lawyers have to pay them to decipher the text. Ha! What a racket! What I really don't like is that even if this attorney was a inept ambulance chaser who wrote a bunch of garbage while drinking Jack Daniels with his college buddies, I may not have been able to detect his incompetence. I guess I should have gone to law school!

A special note to lawyers: don't take anything in this post personally. I don't hate lawyers. I have many lawyer friends who I admire and respect. I guess I'm just a bit envious of your power!

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