Success Stories: Assisting Executors
I have enjoyed each and every client, even though a majority of them
have already passed away! Although I work with their trustees or
executors, I am blessed to get to glimpse of the decedent's personality
and lifestyle by handling their physical estate, and I affectionately give
My "Bizerkeley" situation became my biggest challenge to
date. My client had suffered a massive stroke and was in a nursing home.
Her sister had been appointed as her conservator, as neither had children.
Both ladies were in their mid-80's at the time, and are currently in their
The first floor of the home was extremely neat, ready for company. The
basement, garage, stairways and the entire top floor of 3 bedrooms and 2
baths were inaccessible due to the extensive collections of objects and
clothing and over 350 pairs of shoes scattered though out. Even the beds
and doors were not visible.
There was no filing system, in fact I was referred into the case when
the sister arrived at the attorney's office with 3 shopping bags of loose
papers she had gathered, and it was obvious that this was the tip of the
In the long process of working my way though the home, I was able to
find many items of value for the estate. Here is a sampling of those
- A bank account with over $124,000 balance. (There was only one
related piece of paper in the entire house)
- Stock certificates including one purchased for $1,000 years ago that
was now valued at $400,000
- Several diamond rings (hidden between the mattress and box springs)
- Jewelry hidden in a Band Aid box and behind a dresser
- Immigration papers
- A wedding photograph of the sister's wedding in 1942 in Egypt, found
in a box of postcards and financial papers. (The sister's home had
been destroyed by fire and this was the only photo in existence.)
In addition, I discovered that she had PAID her estimated income tax
each year, but had not FILED a return since 1978, when her husband passed
away. To complicate matters, she owned a large apartment complex. The IRS
and state wanted responses to their letters. It became my assignment to
reconstruct files for 1978-1996, with income and expenses and to work with
the Enrolled Agent to address these matters. This was a unique challenge,
as for each year there were SOME cancelled checks, SOME check registers
and SOME receipts. Every entry needed to be cross- referenced to make
certain we captured everything but did not duplicate it.
Tax returns were filed and even after HUGE penalties, she received over
$80,000 in refunds.
Subsequently, all estimated tax payments and returns have been filed in
a timely manner!
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My "Shadow Box" lady was another interesting assignment. She
had lost her husband prior to moving into a 2 bedroom condo, and her only
surviving child and beneficiary was living in a Board and Care facility,
with 24 hour supervision. Her successor trustee was her nephew, who lived
3000 miles away, who was either traveling or working 16 hours days on his
business! I was referred to the trustee by his attorney.
Although I assumed no fiduciary role, with legal limited powers of
attorney, I was able to be his representative to facilitate discussions at
the financial institutions to obtain forms for him to sign and have
notarized to close and open accounts, and even work with the realtor to
sell the home. We were in frequent telephone and e-mail contact to create
our game plan, and I even signed the documents as his representative when
the house was sold. The trustee never had to make that cross-country trip!
The daughter had very limited space in her shared room, so I created
shadow boxes for her walls with the photographs and memorabilia I found
that represented both her parent's careers and lives.
These became her pride and joy!
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My "Famous Attorney" 's situation was unique, in that the
assignment was to photograph and inventory the entire contents of a 15,000
sq. ft. home and the numerous out buildings on the property, including a
carriage house and the estate manager's home. I worked directly with the
property and estate manager, as the children lived in different parts of
the country. However, the family needed to be able to make joint decisions
upon the disposition of the contents of the estate, and they needed to
know what was there, and what it looked like.
Using a digital camera, we photographed each item and created a data
base which matched the number in the photo. At the end of this project,
each child received a CD of the photos and a copy of the spread sheet,
with areas to designate the final disposition of the items.
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Frank and His Guns
"Frank and His Guns" taught me some valuable lessons! Frank
had lived alone in a double-wide mobile home with an enclosed screen porch
and a full storage shed. With the exception of a 2-foot wide pathway
though the home, every inch of lateral surface in this home was occupied,
sometimes several feet high with "stuff." There was one room
where the stacks were over 6' high. His daughter was his trustee, but
lived out of state. She also had a family, was in the Armed Forces
Reserve, and was on call for deployment at any moment.
Our assignment was to locate the assets and create some order in this
chaos, as the home was going to be sold. I was told that he sometimes kept
loaded guns in the home, that he hid them under cushions, etc. so my team
and I were working carefully.
I checked under all throw pillows and sat in a comfortable chair to
start going through the stacks and bags of papers. It was hours later that
we discovered that the seat of the chair was a very thick removable
cushion, and I had been sitting on a loaded gun!
Lesson Learned: I now faithfully check every "cushion" when
working in homes!
By reviewing over 50 boxes and bags of loose papers, we were able to
find several financial assets and clues to others, as well as important
documents needed to settle the estate. There were 24 guns hidden in
various areas, and a safe, chained to the closet floor. We inventoried and
donated over 60 bags of clothing to non-profits and filled the recycle
bins and garbage cans to the rim each week with outdated food and trash.
We set up staging areas for the family memorabilia, numerous different
collections, and prepared the home so that the family could make their
decisions regarding the disposition of the contents.
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