This blog post is the second in a series of stories about how I help my clients protect their family members and assets through my services as an estate planning attorney. If you spot any similarities between these experiences and your own, please know that you can always call on me for assistance.
When a loved one is lost, sometimes physical reminders become all the more treasured. I’ve seen beautiful blankets made a parent’s old shirts, or stuffed animals made from the linens of a grandparent.
But sometimes, when a loss is so great, and a loved one so missed – even before departing this earth – artifacts become almost critical to secure.
The story and succession of a WWII veteran
Mr. Thomas (name changed for the purposes of this post) was a member of The Greatest Generation – a WWII veteran, a survivor of the brutal Bataan Death March in the Philippines and a decorated war hero. It is truly humbling to think of the sacrifices Mr. Thomas made on behalf of our country. And in doing so, he accumulated medals, swords and various salutations for his acts of valor.
As an elderly father to four grown, successful and loving children, Mr. Thomas was devastated when his wife passed away. In due time, he frequented a local dance hall to mingle and remain social. That’s where he met the woman who would eventually become his second wife.
I represented Mr. Thomas’ grown children. They described watching and documenting the wife’s lavish spending… mostly of Mr. Thomas’ money.
As Mr. Thomas was becoming unable to care for himself, his new wife decided to move with him to her home in upstate New York, isolating him from his family here in Louisiana. During perhaps the second most dire time in his life, Mr. Thomas was separated from people who loved and cared about him. His children suspected that the new Mrs. Thomas only provided him minimal care and minimal attention.
This is the name for the court-overseen process of opening a succession. During this process, a person’s final or outstanding bills are paid, and their assets are transferred to their heirs. If there is a Last Will and Testament, the document will be verified and carried out.
This concerns the handling of the estate of someone who dies without a Last Will and Testament in place. Basically, in the absence of such a document, one will be created for you in accordance with state law. This is more or less a ‘default’ solution to dividing assets. It’s always better to have any wishes spelled out in a Last Will or Testament, which I can help with.
Money taken; dignity intact
Within two months of his move to New York, Mr. Thomas died. With phone calls few-and-far-between already, Mr. Thomas’ wife called to let his children know that he had passed away – and that his body would be available to be shipped back home. His family held a fitting tribute at his military funeral at Lakelawn Cemetery in New Orleans.
When I first met Mr. Thomas’ children, they were desperate to recover the physical reminders of their Dad’s love – from the love he had for his family, to the love he had for his country.
Fighting an intestate succession
I helped the family open the succession of their father. First, we probated the Last Will and Testament. That’s a process through which the document is verified as an original, valid Will, and the deceased person’s intentions are carried out through succession.
Then, we compiled and listed the assets of the state, some of which were in storage locally, and most of which was taken to New York, including the multitude of medals and commendations for his valiant service to his country.
Even though she had been given a copy of the Last Will and Testament, the surviving spouse proceeded to file for an intestate succession (or succession with no Will) in New York. I also represented the family in challenging that succession, and we tracked down and recovered some of the financial accounts that were to be awarded to the surviving spouse.
But perhaps most importantly, I was able to help find some of the most treasured assets in Mr. Thomas’ estate – the medals of honor awarded to him as a war hero. These items will now become heirlooms; a cherished piece of family history and tangible reminders of one of the finest members of The Greatest Generation in the history of our country.
In the legal profession, I may not always be able to make all injustices right. I certainly wish I could have turned back the clock so Mr. Thomas’ family could have the chance to be with their Dad during the last months of his life.
But by helping this family navigate this somewhat-tricky succession process, I was also privileged to help a family honor a life well-lived – a stellar war hero, husband and dad.