Where There’s a Will, There’s a War

“You can’t take it with you” is one of the cruelest jokes played on the wealthy. In this one story, it takes on the sublime when a daughter of the deceased interprets that to mean “all or nothing”.

A rich dowager lady abruptly passed away. She lived a very comfortable lifestyle with a residence in Chicago as well as one in Florida for the winter. Despite her wealth, she had been forlorn about losing one hundred fifty thousand dollars in property value on paper for one of her condos as a result of the housing market crash. As if no one else had. As if she had a mortgage to pay. As if she was going to sell it at some point and move somewhere else. One day, she fell down and with the blink of an eye and the formality of a doctor to place a sheet cover over head, there was no longer any fretting over lost income.

All the beauty parlor appointments were memories to no one else. All the rides to and from airports, arranging for her car to be taken down to Florida for the winter and back to Chicago, the worrying about hurricanes, the cleaning lady coming over on the designated day of the week were insignificant facts that caused no one else to lose sleep.

It was not an end, but a beginning to a drawn out process on how to distribute the dowager’s assets. Sure, there was a will and a trust but along with that invariably went hard feelings.

The son had been made executor of the distribution. Naturally, he thought it would be simple and cooperative. However, he did not take into account his sister’s scheming. And why should he? There always had been a good relationship between the two. At the funeral and followup mourning, the two got along well and respected each other’s vented emotions.

It didn’t last long. The son’s wife had gone one day along with her daughter to her mother-in-law’s apartment to check on it and make sure everything was in order and nothing needed cleaning. She mentioned it to her sister-in-law. The next day the son told his wife that his sister’s lawyer had instructed him to have his wife refrain from going back to the apartment at all. Apparently, the sister did not trust her sister-in-law about taking anything in the apartment. Anything and everything had to be divvied up through legal proceedings despite the written will.

It was the intention of the sister to sell everything on consignment for cash, even the dowager’s clothes. What should have been a slam-dunk assessment of tangible property would now be drawn out and evaluated for possible sale rather than keepsake.

The son had found a buyer interested in the apartment but now he was worried that his sister would object to the selling price and rather have them keep it for a while, pay property taxes and condo fees, until a good price could be reached. Forget the fact that the unit was free of mortgage.

After hearing this story I was then reminded of my downstairs neighbors telling me about when they bought the unit they live in. It had been their grandparents until they both died within a few weeks of each other. The wife’s mother and sister were sole heirs. The wife’s aunt made her pay top dollar to buy the unit rather than at a below-market price even though it was a blood relative.

As soon as the property closed, the aunt came in from out of the country and stripped everything from the apartment except for a couple of innocuous items. I guess that’s what happens when one daughter inherits the house and the other the father’s business. Not only that- but the daughter who inherited the condo apartment also received ownership of the warehouse that her sister used for running the parent’s distribution business. So, the sister now pays her sibling rent.

I guess sibling rivalry takes on a new meaning when both parents are no longer around.

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