It's been a few months since my husband's mother passed away. The sharpest point of grief has passed. We miss her, but we can talk about losing her without breaking down. That's progress, I suppose.
We were so focused on helping her live. We made sure we did what she wanted to do for her while she was alive. We did have a difficult conversation about where to find what we were going to need should she die, but we really thought she was going to live. We didn't double check.
This is a shout out to all of you who may think they have a current will.
You might not.
My mother -in-law made her will some years ago with the lawyer she worked for. I thought she had updated it when she moved to Northern Florida. By updating it, I don't mean changing the provisions so much as making sure she had a current lawyer who would be able to produce and attest to the genuineness of the will so a probate lawyer would be able to file it with probate court. The provisions didn't matter, all I cared about was that she had a legal, implementable plan for her affairs.
The lawyer she worked for, the one we thought/think made the will, fired her years ago. No one thought about the implications of her will at the time. We were more focused on helping navigate being unemployed and in her late 50's. Some years later after she moved I had asked her to have her will updated to a local law firm and she said she would take care of it. Talking about wills with your in-laws is always awkward, so I didn't pursue it any further and neither did Mr. Wolverton.
The bottom line is we have a will, but it cannot be filed with the court.
We thought she had it together on this stuff. She was an office manager for a law firm. It never occurred to us that her will would be compromised. It was just a few years ago, Mom had us come up mid week and she took Mr. Wolverton around town and had him sign joint account cards on everything she thought was important. We thought it was because she was updating her will and did as she asked.
Last fall and winter while we were dealing with helping Mom live. She had him listen to her through some painful conversations over how she wanted him to handle things should she die. She did have my husband double check to see if all her important papers were where she said to find them. The papers included a notarized copy of her will, life insurance a list investment accounts and a list of bequeaths of keepsakes and stuff - all the things you would think of as important. We thought she was just being her normal, thorough self and it didn't occur to us to make sure the will was valid.
As Mom's life ebbed away, the last things on our mind was settling her estate. We wanted to bring her home. Besides, we thought we had it handled. The accounts were held in two names. Mr. Wolverton had control of the assets. He had Power of Attorney. We had what we needed to deal with the unthinkable, should death arrive unwelcomed.
Well, no one really plans for death.
It turns out the lawyer who originally made up the will. The one who fired her, now says he never created the will. The notarized copy of the will we have, despite being on his letterhead and notarized by his office notary, was not one he created. He says that she created it using boilerplate, had it notarized and "slipped it into his will box" - all without his knowledge.
Could we file a complaint with the Florida State Bar Association? We could, but to what end? What would we write? What can we prove? All we have is a notarized copy of a will. Florida wills only have the the signatures of the person involved, the witnesses and the notary. The lawyer who prepared the document, doesn't sign it. We could say our side. He could say otherwise. Lawyers would investigate another lawyer and find a big fat nothing. The complaint would go no where and all we'd reap is some ill will of a couple lawyers, which to my way of thinking, would be a mistake.
We're opting for "What now?" The original lawyer could attest to the accuracy of the will's contents and our probate lawyer has suggested this as a course of action, but that isn't happening. We could track down the witnesses and pay for them to go to the probate court in Northern Florida to attest to the will. We may be stuck going the intestate route and since it's now a small, simple estate; that's probably the best way to go.
Lucky for us, most of the foot work she had done leaves most of her estate out of probate. We don't have to declare any assets that she put in Mr. Wolverton's name. That just leaves the house and car and she would have put his name on those too; but she ran out of time. We can pay her bills while we deal with probate court to get permission to sell the house and car. We live close to 300 miles away, but it's manageable.
It's been several months and because Mr. Wolverton still hasn't been declared her Personal Representative; we've had some laughable moments. Like, calling the electric company and asking them to have the bills sent to our home - can't be done; that's an account that she didn't have put in two names. Then, once they told us they can't change the billing address, the rep wants to know when we are planning to pay the electric bill - that we haven't seen and she couldn't give us the balance due. We've had repeat performances with her cable, telephone, cell phone, pharmacy service companies. We were able to cancel and close the credit cards. Credit cards don't like to stop auto-billing, but they make the exception once they have notice the card holder is deceased. Both the pharmacy service and the cell phone companies finally had to admit defeat when they were denied the ability to bill her credit card.
We've had to make periodic trips to her home just under 4 hours away to pick up the mail and sort through stuff. All the normal things you do for a loved one when they pass on. I miss her, but I'm grateful that she put together a good plan. I don't think it ever occurred to her that her former employer would deny he had anything to do with that will. At least we can handle it.
We don't like to think about our eventual death. Thankfully, she did and got it almost right.
Thank you Mom, it could have been so much worse these last few weeks..