On the day my mother died in 2007, I contacted a friend who is an attorney and asked him if there was any way he would be able to write a trust agreement on the double. The reason I asked this huge favor was because Mom was not at peace and I was trying to do anything that might ease her mind and allow her to let go of her time here on planet earth.
Mom was under hospice care for the last five months of her life. She had been battling a cancer for six years and had twice undergone surgery to remove it. I was with her when her oncologist broke the news to her that her previously slow-growing tumor had viciously become very aggressive and that, at her age, surgery would be high-risk with the 50-50 chance of not surviving the procedure. Having vowed after her last operation never to put herself through that again, she opted for “God’s will”, for nature to take it’s course.
On the morning of September 27, 2007, the hospice nurses came to Mom’s room, took her vitals, and then let those of us in the room know that she would pass on that day as her body was in the process of shutting down.
For nearly a week, Mom had been uncommunicative. It looked as if she was sleeping but she seemed very uncomfortable with quick, shallow, and labored breathing. After digging deep and pushing myself to the limit for months – years – trying to bring comfort to the woman who bore and raised me and help her settle her affairs so that she could live – and die – in peace, I hated to see that her final hours would be so labored, so uncomfortable, and so very sad.
At one point that morning, an idea popped into my head. Maybe Mom was worried about the money. Maybe she feared that the life savings of her and my Dad would be taken from him again, just as it was taken from the both of them back in 2004 when they sold the house they owned for almost 50 years. Several weeks before Mom passed, I was able to get that money back for them but, by that time, it was too late to be of any use to her. Yet, she was glad Dad would have it and not have to worry about bills all the time like she did.
So, I called my kind friend and he generously drafted a legal trust agreement in which the money would be secured into a savings account to be used as Dad saw fit for as long as he lived and any remainder would be divided ten ways equally between my nine siblings and me. That was what both of my parents had always articulated as their wish.
After spending half the day trying to get the trust together with little cooperation from siblings and then explaining to Dad what it was and why it was an important thing to do that day, it was finally signed by my father, myself (as a co-trustee) and two sisters (one as a co-trustee and the other as a witness).
I immediately went into Mom’s room, sat at her bedside, held her hand in mine, and told her about the family trust named after her and Dad. Within 15 minutes, everything stopped – her breathing, her heart, her worries.
Last April, Dad did what he had wanted to do since that day in 2007. He followed her.
So, now would be the time to split up whatever money is left in the trust savings account. Naturally, it is simple division – the balance of the account divided by ten equals the amount each of the ten beneficiaries named in the original trust agreement would inherit. However, the other trustee has different ideas.
According to the president of the bank where my parents held all of their accounts, this particular sister has decided that she should be the one who determines who gets what of the money in the trust. Besides the fact that she has falsely accused me of stealing money from Dad, she wants to start subtracting any money Dad had previously given out to certain siblings from their one-tenth share.
For instance, one brother asked for and received a $3000 “loan” from my dad. When Dad called me one morning and asked me to write the check, I didn’t question him. It was his money and he would do whatever he wanted with it. (He was very grateful, as was I, that he had his mental faculties throughout.) If his vision was better, he could write the check himself. Because his eyes and ears were failing him, I helped him out with his bills and banking. Additionally, he had asked me – twice – to write a check for $3000 to one of my sisters. He didn’t say why and I didn’t ask.
Now, the sister who is a co-trustee with me of the family trust apparently wants to go back in time with an adding machine and figure out who deserves what. There is only one problem with that. It’s wrong.
In the parable of The Laborers in the Vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16), the owner of the fields hired three different groups of workers throughout the day. One group worked the full day in the scorching heat. The second group was hired mid-morning and worked a half-day. The third group ended up working for only one hour. Yet, the owner instructed his foreman to pay each of laborers equally.
The full-day workers immediate complained about getting cheated, feeling they deserved more pay than the men who worked less.
To their complaints, the master replied, “My friend, I do you no injustice. You agreed on the usual wage, did you not? Take your pay and go home. I intend to give this man who was hired last the same pay as you. I am free to do as I please with my money, am I not? Or are you envious because I am generous?”
My father never went around quoting the bible but I know he was familiar with the parables of the New Testament. Whatever money remained in Dad’s bank accounts at the time of his death was his money and his money alone. His money to do with as he saw fit. The same is true for the time he was alive.
Was it ‘fair’ that some got $3000 checks and others didn’t? Was it ‘fair’ that one sibling and her husband took and kept my parents’ life savings from them and refused to give it back? Was it ‘fair’ that my parents had to pay the bills of their middle-aged offspring?
The answer is, it doesn’t matter. Like the farmer in the parable, he could pay with his own money whatever he wants – to the workers and to the loafers. Inheritance is not an earned wage. It is a gift. And when polite persons receive a gift, they don’t complain.
They say Thank You.