They Left Us Everything
It's only a formality, but it seems important to give this Sibling Supper some gravitas. We've been through wills before, on both sides of the family, and it's astonishing what ill will can be generated from a sheaf of paper. At least Mum's will is straightforward. She never understood wills that showed favouritism--why bequeath a fight to the next generation? She believed that wills should treat all children equally, so everything is divided by four.
Dad's will was straightforward, too. He'd left all his assets to Mum, which is why we didn't discover one small glitch until after Mum died: Victor found some old IOUs in Dad's safety deposit box. Whenever we'd borrowed money in the past--to repay a student loan, perhaps, or to finance a property--Mum wasn't too bothered with accounting; we found notes she'd scribbled to herself on scraps of paper in her desk.
See a Problem?
But whenever we borrowed from Dad, he made us sign a formal IOU. Mum's will generously stipulates that all debts to her are forgiven, but the lawyer has explained that debts to Dad are not Mum's to forgive--she inherited his assets, not his debts. Debts to Dad should be deducted from our inheritance and repaid to the estate.
Not everyone is happy. Obviously, in hindsight, Mum was the better bank. Mum has also left each one of us a specific, treasured object. To me, she's left the German music box that has been in her family since To Robin, she's left the wooden prison ship, carved out of wood and fishbone by Dad's great-great-grandfather during the Napoleonic Wars. To Chris, she's left the elaborate sterling silver punch bowl passed down by our Irish ancestors. And to Victor, she's left the silver water goblets that we always used on special family occasions. Each of the grandchildren has been left something, too.enter site
"they left us everything"
The girls get a piece of jewellery, and the boys one of Dad's war medals. When Victor has finished reading the slim document, he asks if one of us will act as secretary to record the minutes for the many items we need to discuss. Everyone looks at me, but I keep quiet for once. There's an uncomfortable silence. Eventually Chris volunteers. Victor gives us an up-to-date summary of Mum's financial affairs--how much is left in the bank and what debts are outstanding.
The most important decision we have to make tonight is what to do with the main asset: the house. Mum had always worried about this. She asked me repeatedly, "What will you children do with the house after I'm gone? Could we duplex it? Could I live over the garage and rent out the main part?
They Left Us Everything, by Plum Johnson [Book Review]
We poll the table to find out if any of us wants to buy the others out. Everyone looks at me again--they know how much I love it-- and I'm filled with feelings of inadequacy. How could I be in such a position as to not be able to afford this house? It means I'm relatively poorer in middle age than my father was when he was only thirty-six.
It underscores all the mistakes I've made. I allow myself to wallow in so many "if onlys. I'd already bought a lottery ticket--the Stupid Man's Tax--and not one of my numbers rolled out. There's only one possibility left: finding a treasure under the floorboards. Isn't there something A priceless Roman coin, perhaps, or a dirty little Degas? I can't bear to give up my dream of keeping this house in the family. Predictably, immediately following Mum's funeral we'd received several real estate inquiries, all disguised as sympathy notes.
Some were from agents but most were from private buyers. They rambled on at some length about how they had met Mum, found her so fascinating, sat on her verandah, loved the view, etc. We didn't recognize any of the names. They all ended with "So, if you're ever thinking of selling We discuss what to do with these letters: should we choose an agent or just start negotiating with one of the private buyers? As co-executors, Victor and I have a fiduciary responsibility to get the best price.
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We know the house has dramatically increased in value--about three times what my Toronto home is worth because lakefront is so highly prized now--but we need to get it professionally appraised. The exterior wooden clapboard needs painting, something Dad did faithfully every seven years, and it's a costly and mammoth task. We pour more scotch and decide to have the house painted as soon as the weather's warm enough. We've told Pelmo and Tashi that they can continue to live in their apartment at the back of the house until they find new jobs, but they're leaving for Tibet soon on a six-week holiday.
We can't leave the house empty; there are too many valuable things there, and, most importantly, there's Mum's dog, Sambo. He's deaf and almost blind, but he knows his way around Mum's house by heart. We all agree it would be cruel to board him. Chris laughs.
You've always loved the house. Now's your chance Your kids have all moved out. It'll only be for six weeks I'm in the middle of a freelance assignment and can take my computer with me. I can also begin the process of clearing out sixty years' worth of clutter. I think, How hard can it be? I know how to buy garbage bags. For as long as I can remember, I've been time-deprived-- overextended with elderly parents, children, grandchildren, and my own career--so I can't wait to empty Mum's house and put the role of dutiful daughter behind me.
I rise to the challenge of a six-week deadline. Same with the one in my old bedroom," I say.
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A new toaster or I don't go. It's only going to be you there! How many baths do you need?
Plum Johnson: They Left Us Everything
I'm sure his old tickets are around somewhere. If we can make the house livable, maybe it could feel like a holiday.
Victor refuses to budge on the water tank, but the boys agree to everything else. The last thing on our agenda is a method for fairly dividing the contents. We decide on the method Mum's family had used at Rokeby, their family farm in Virginia. When Grandmother died, all her possessions were appraised and the value divided equally as "play money" amongst her many children. They took turns "buying" one thing at a time until they'd used up their portion. Before we can use the Rokeby Method, however, all of Mum and Dad's possessions need to be appraised, photographed, and catalogued.
I volunteer for this task, too. I know how to take pictures. Robin offers to drive up frequently to help archive the documents and to catalogue the books. Victor will be dealing with the finances, the probate, and the ongoing maintenance of the house. Chris is careful not to volunteer for anything.