Slowly, I’m working through the process of wrapping up Maggie’s “estate.” I put estate in quotes because, frankly, it just seems so impersonal and kind of unreal, like an inappropriate term – one I’m certainly not comfortable with. This “estate” was my sweet wife’s stuff! These were things that were important to her, parts of her life that I’m…. making go away. These are not an “estate.” These are little fragile pieces of broken dreams that I’m setting free after being trapped in the quagmire that is the legal process. Well, as of last Thursday, the judge gave me the legal power to set all her remaining dreams free.
Thursday’s probate court was uneventful other than its emotional content. Martha and Florencia helped me through it all and for that I’ll forever be grateful. I managed not to punch the attorney ad litem* in the face which is good seeing how we were in a courthouse and she’s a she and it’s just not right to punch someone in the face even if they’ve done a disservice to me. All that and I’m just not really the punching type. But I thought about it. Instead I said mean things in my head….. loudly.
* The attorney ad litem is a lawyer that’s required by probate law to represent Maggie’s unborn children. For that ridiculous privilege I get the privilege of paying her $385. She should pay me. Or Maggie’s “estate,” rather.
The Big Damn Deal took about 10 minutes, give or take. The judge was friendly enough and even cracked a few jokes. The clerk even knew Maggie (of course he did!) Afterwards, we walked down the hall and picked up the holy-of-holy papers, the Letter of Administration. With this little piece of paper decorated with a long paragraph of legal speak, I’m finally designated the keeper of all things Maggie, including bank accounts, and everything else that she’d normally have to sign for. Finally, I can file taxes, close her bank accounts, transfer her car title, etc, etc, etc… releasing her unfinished dreams.
After getting back in the car (Maggie’s awesome car, that is) I put the top down and put it in drive. More than several moments passed with my foot firmly stuck on the brake. Finally, I put it back in park and sat. My brain was just mush. I didn’t move for about thirty minutes. My mind was a jumble of images fighting for my attention, some from a year ago, some from twenty minutes ago, and some from who the heck knows. More than once the idea of selling everything and just disappearing pulled at me. I could leave today, I thought, and just pay someone to get rid of it all and never look back. I sat in that car a long time, engine running and ready to drive anywhere. It was hard not to put that cool car in gear and just end up somewhere in Mexico.
Finally, the Get Shit Done part of me took over and I headed straight to the accountant’s office. He had a dusty folder full of tax stuff waiting for me and my newly-acquired signature authority. Armed with the all-powerful Letter of Administration, I took the pen, signed my name as Maggie’s…. uh… administrator and mailed in the tax forms. Finally. And with that, I was just done for the day.
Friday was another day. Bank accounts await! Maggie had two accounts she opened when she hung her shingle.** She was so proud that day. I remember it mostly, hazed over by lack of sleep from my own school daze. I was proud, too. That moment was about five years in the making, cancer be damned. She was beaming with pride and with excitement and with anticipation of a glorious future.
** Law-speak for opening your own firm.
It took me until 1PM to get to Chase Bank. My hands just wouldn’t steer the car in that direction. Once there, I sat in the parking lot just long enough to arouse suspicion. I was less casing the joint and more simply working up enough emotional fortitude to avoid an embarrassing bank-lobby scene. I didn’t want to be “that guy.” Finally, ample fortitude collected, I made my move. After some time waiting for a banker, I sat down with Janina. She was cordial but not too chatty. Perfect, I thought. I’ll be safely out of this emotional landmine field in 15 minutes, two bank accounts closed. I can do 15 minutes.
Before I continue it’s important that I hit on some vocabulary. Maggie had two accounts with Chase, both of which she was the only signatory. One was a regular business account and the other was a lawyer-specific type account called an IOLTA. An IOLTA is the place where money goes when an attorney says “I need a $5,000 retainer.” Typically, the retainer money gets deposited into the IOLTA and is withdrawn as the lawyer bills the clients. Bill gets sent. Money gets withdrawn from the IOLTA and deposited into the business account. In her short stint as a working attorney, we did this many, many times. As far as I understand it, the practice is standard operating procedure. Sadly, however, as we progressed toward our date with destiny, less attention was paid to the particulars and the precious little energy remaining was spent attending to Maggie’s clients’ needs. Selfless to the end, she help them as long as she could. While she kept on working, at some point near the end, she stopped logging hours and transferring money. Her heart was with her clients, not the clerical duties. Thus, some funds still sit forever in purgatory waiting to be transferred.
I told Janina only that I needed to close two accounts. She looked up one and seeing that Maggie was the only signatory, asked for my ID. Suspecting that she didn’t think my name was Maggie, I gave her my ID while I explained that Maggie was my wife and that this holy document, the Letter of Administration, was the legal document she’d need to close the accounts.
After a moment scanning the Letter of Administration, she said that she’d need to call someone at headquarters. After a few moments of chatter back and forth, she said, among other things, “Oh, I see” and “the Texas Bar Association.”
While still on the phone, I asked her what was going on. She paused her conversation to tell me that she could not close the IOLTA account without a “letter of instruction” from the Texas Bar Association. Odd, I thought, since I had a letter in my hand from the court called, *cough*, Letter of Administration that I understood allowed me to essentially act as Maggie in any matter. Frustrated but patient, I waited until she was done with her phone call.
She then repeated the requirement and I explained my case: the Letter of Administration was from an order from a judge and that the IOLTA account was discussed specifically in court with the judge who was satisfied that all was above board. She said “we have our own requirements.”
At this point I was very frustrated. It was hard enough to walk in and tear down yet another piece of my lovely wife’s dreams. To have an additional barrier put up instead was just a punch in the gut. Ah, but it’s just getting started.
Trying to problem solve, I asked, “Is the issue that there’s money in the account? If so, with this letter I have the authority to sign as Maggie. I can empty the account by transferring money out of the account into the business account like we’ve done so many times before and then close the account.” (Remember that punch in the gut? Here it comes.)
To which she replied “You are conspiring to commit fraud. I am locking the account as we speak so that you no longer have access to this account. Until you come back with a ‘letter of instruction’ from the Texas Bar Association, I can no longer help you with this matter.”
Punch! Ooof! Commit fraud?!?…. Wow.
How did such a poignant event such as this, simply closing my wife’s accounts and, thus, letting go of her dreams, twist into being accused of fraud? How does THAT happen? I’m still not sure.
(I wish the story was done but, unfortunately, there’s still more.)
“Is there anything else I can help you with?” to which I replied calmly “Please close the business account.”
After some time, she returned to ask for an additional form of ID. I feel like she did it with a twinkle in her eye but at this point I was so upset my perspective was no doubt colored.
She returned with a cashier’s check. Instead of making it out to me or something thereabouts, she made it out to “The Estate of Maggie Mae Weaver aka Maggie Mae Pilat.” Now, I’m not sure if there was really any opportunity to make things easier on me at this point, but this sure seemed like additional bull crap. Because of this specific choice of payee, I now have to jump through even MORE hoops to bring this matter to a close. Shall I explain?
I have to file for a tax id for “The Estate of Maggie Mae Weaver” that I can then use to open a bank account (paying any fees associated with that.) I can finally write myself a check (again, paying any fees as I go, like for the cost of checks with a new account.) Then, I get to close the account, paying fees as I go (yes, many accounts these days have fees to for closing the account before a certain amount of time has passed.) Then, best of all, I get to file a tax return for the newly-created tax id. Finally, I get to dissolve the tax id when I’m done. All of this extra work just because the cashier’s check was addressed to “The Estate of Maggie Mae Weaver aka Maggie Mae Pilat.”
Now the real fun starts. Never mind that Janina at Chase Bank decided to accuse me of fraud. How the heck do I get a “letter of instruction” from the Texas Bar Association? I tried not to worry about it too much over the weekend until I could consult with my probate attorney. Surely he’d have an answer. Surely he’s seen this before.
I was wrong. He was confused as to what the heck a “letter of instruction” was. Why would the Texas Bar Association even be involved at all? They have no knowledge or interest in The Estate of Maggie Weaver or her lingering IOLTA account. None! It is just all completely ridiculous. And he was a more than a little stunned at the accusations from Janina that I was trying to commit fraud.
Oddly enough, Chase Bank can’t produce a copy of any “letter of instruction” they’ve received before. Quite mysterious, if you ask me. Even more odd, as a sanity check, my attorney called the Texas Bar Association, specifically the IOLTA department, and they clearly stated they never write letters like that nor would they for reasons I’ve already mentioned. They don’t render opinions or “letters of instruction”…. Ever. Something stinks in the kitchen.
After some round-and-round, my probate attorney has gotten nowhere with Janina and Chase Bank. Their final decision: bring in a “letter of instruction” from the Texas Bar Association or an order from the court. So, thanks to Chase Bank, despite the difficult process this already is, I get to:
* File for a tax id number for The Estate of Maggie Weaver
* File a tax return for The Estate of Maggie Weaver (aside from the final tax return I have to file for her)
* Open a new bank account
* Pay all kinds of fees associated with the new bank account
* Spend (already spent!) days going back and forth with the folks at Chase Bank, being treated like I’m some sort of criminal
* Go BACK to court to get a court order to tell Chase Bank to let me close down the account (never mind the Letter of Administration)
Oh, I forgot, and be told I’m trying to commit fraud. Forgot that bit….
I honestly thought this was going to be a simple 15 minute trip though an emotional mindfield. I had no idea.