IT WAS APRIL 29, 2009. My 12-hour workday had already begun when, at about 4:30 a.m., I received the call from Jonathan, my younger brother. He never calls at that hour. In fact, we never phone without first texting each other to determine the best time to talk. I sensed bad news and sure enough it was. Our father had been killed 36 hours earlier while riding his bicycle. In the months that followed, it would be my responsibility, along with my twin brother, to fulfill the wishes of our father. We were the executors of Dad’s will.
Along with the sudden loss of my father and managing Dad’s estate, there was a confluence of other events which made 2009 one of the most challenging years I have faced. At my landscaping company, we—like many others—were dealing with the fallout of what came to be known as the Great Recession. I was still going through treatment for thyroid cancer. My partner’s mother was battling an illness from which she would pass away just months after my father.
There are things you can set aside for later. But my twin brother and I could not let our company fail—it was our lifeblood. Treatment for cancer can’t wait. And I needed to provide support for my partner. Somehow, with all this, I also needed to fit in the role of being executor.
I took the task seriously. My brother and I were responsible for ensuring that Dad’s estate was settled properly and that his wishes were followed. In a matter of days, I joined my siblings and mother for the drive to my Dad’s home in Key West, Fla. Walking into my father’s house was difficult. Lying ahead for me and my family were not just the grieving process, but also what seemed the insurmountable task of sorting through Dad’s personal affairs. Dad’s will, trust and other financial papers were reasonably easy to find in his house. Balancing his check book, which had gone awry because of his Parkinson’s disease, was not so easy. On this same visit, my family met with Dad’s estate attorney. The process of getting Dad’s estate settled was about to begin in earnest.
During the next several months, I set aside time as needed to handle paperwork for Dad’s estate. I looked on it more as a business. For the most part, it wasn’t personal. Piece by piece, various aspects of Dad’s estate were settled. The estate attorney handled the probate process. While he and his staff did a lot of the legwork that was required, I am quite certain the hours involved didn’t justify the outrageous fee that was charged. The same goes for the attorney who handled claims for accidental death. Taking 33% of the insurance payout, for what I am sure entailed a few phone calls, was even more outrageous.
The decision over whether to sell Dad’s house was perhaps the most difficult. Florida was one of the states hit hardest by the mortgage crisis. Home values had plummeted 50%. The cost of maintaining Dad’s house was not inexpensive. Insurance alone ran into the thousands because of the requirement for wind and flood insurance. It quickly became clear to my siblings that selling Dad’s house was for the best. In a relatively short amount of time, a buyer came along with what seemed a reasonable offer. With the gut feeling that another buyer may not turn up soon, we accepted the offer. The settlement process was relatively painless.
One by one, I paid off Dad’s debts. After the more significant ones had been taken care of, I started to write checks to the beneficiaries named in Dad’s will and trust. As each month passed and as it became clear we were coming to the end of settling Dad’s estate, I felt a sense of relief. Closing the checking account for Dad’s estate was my final act. I had fulfilled my duty.
Death never comes at a good time. Writing this piece for HumbleDollar required me to look back through various files that I have, because so much of 2009 and 2010 remain a blur. Thinking back on that time, I wonder how I ever coped with all that was going on. Treating Dad’s estate as a business undertaking likely helped me through. Had I taken it personally, the emotional toll would have been too much.
Nicholas Clements is one of Jonathan’s older brothers. Their father would have turned age 84 today. Nick is retired and lives just outside Washington, DC. His previous articles include Opening My Wallet, My Generation and Retire to What?