Personal Post: Estate Done

I am so crazy busy right now, I shouldn’t even be spending a few minutes on my iPad to add some words to this and get it up and posted. (I’ve been adding to this post for three months.) I’m so busy, actually, with the last of the estate and personal stuff, that I had to drop a short story assignment for only the second time in my career. (Sorry, fine folks who hired me. Events just conspired.)

So this post is about my personal journey through dealing with the estate of my good friend, Bill Trojan. This is long and I’m skipping many of the details.

To start and understand all this, please go read my comments about Bill at:

http://www.deanwesleysmith.com/?p=5187

My experience with this can also be a lesson to anyone who doesn’t have a will. Or who has a will, but has left things unfinished or not done correctly. Read on.

The actual estate closed about a month ago. All done, judge gaveled it down. Everything disbursed. Estate account closed.

On Monday I sold Bill’s house to his neighbors who were willing to take it and do the work to fix it up. It’s a great house in a great neighborhood, but Bill hadn’t lived in it for over ten years. That never does a house any good, but the wonderful neighbors were willing to take on the challenge and I thank them for that. It will again be a showplace.

So with everything done now, let me start from the beginning and run through the events of the last seven months and twenty days.

Facts:

— Bill lived in Eugene, Oregon in a large one-bedroom apartment that had started out as part of his bookstore.

— He had a nice three-bedroom home with large garage in a nice neighborhood.

— He died on August 22nd in Reno, Nevada, alone in a hotel room.

— He had a will. I was his executor.

With those facts, all this would seem simple until I add in a few more facts.

— He was a major book collector and hoarder. He carefully protected every book and pulp magazine he got and had a fantastic memory of everything he owned. He also was a huge source of information about books, authors, and collecting. But he also saved every publisher catalog and every piece of paper decade after decade after decade.

His home only had a trail through it and his apartment was the same. But he only collected top quality stuff, so every pile had stunning books, pulps, and art in them. He had one chair in his apartment and no place to sit in his home. Even his garage was stacked to the ceiling with boxes of books and magazines I had managed to help him get on pallets to protect ten years ago.

The picture on the right is looking in the front door of his home. Up until now, Larry Woodside and I were the only people who were in that building in the last ten years.

The picture below on the left is taken from his only chair in his apartment.

Bill did his will about six years ago and I remember three of us witnessed it over at his friend’s Larry Woodside’s home. Larry and Bill often traveled to conventions together and they exchanged wills saying if one of them died, the other would get his pulp magazines. Both had extensive pulp magazine collections.

So the day after Bill died, I sat down in his chair and started through the piles of paper beside his chair that he had said the will was in. After two days of searching, I found a will. It only had Larry’s signature on it, but honestly I didn’t think much about that. I figured Bill and Larry had redone it at some point and it was basically the same as I remembered. So I made an appointment with an attorney and showed him the will the next day. He flipped it back to me and said, and I quote. “It’s not valid.”

You see, in Oregon, intent of the dead person does not matter. And a will must have at least two witnesses. And since Bill had no relatives, if his will didn’t hold, the State of Oregon would get everything. And they would auction it all off, the very thing Bill did not want to happen to his collections.

So after a short hour or two of panic, Kris told me she had a firm memory of witnessing a will for Bill and her name was not on the will we showed the attorney. So another will just had to be there in the piles of paper somewhere. So back into the stacks of paper I went and another two days later I had found two more wills. Both with enough signatures, thankfully. Both with the same terms. One just dated about six months after the other.

So I took the most recent will to my attorney here on the coast and he glanced at it and said, and I quote. “It’s not valid.”

The reason? The witness signatures had not been notarized.

Kris stopped me as I pounded my forehead into his desk a few times. You see, Kris and I had already spent about ten thousand out of our pocket to take care of Bill’s body and stuff in Reno which also included my week-plus in a hotel room in Eugene.

So, to keep the State of Oregon from auctioning off Bill’s stuff, I called my best friend in Boise who has been an estate attorney and he talked with a couple other attorneys and we came up with a few ideas. First off, we could go to Nevada where Bill died and do the probate there, and then open a secondary probate in Oregon. Nevada, unlike Oregon, had friendly laws that went to a deceased intent, so the wills we had would show Bill’s intent clearly and it would not be a problem. And Oregon would have to follow Nevada laws.

Or, because there were three boxes of Bill’s stuff stored in Idaho, we could probate it there, but none of us liked that idea much. So it looked like Nevada was going to be the only choice. My attorney here on the coast agreed, but wanted to try one thing first. He wanted to see if he could figure out a way around the witness notary requirement by having all three witnesses to Bill’s will sign a document saying we had watched Bill sign his will and then notarize that new document.

My attorney got a judge to agree that would work in this case and sign off on the process. We all signed another paper and finally, almost two weeks into the process, we had a valid will.

Back up to the day after Bill died.

He was a nationally known book collector and even if the State of Oregon was going to get it all, I sure didn’t want someone to be breaking into his home or apartment to take his things. And there are lowlifes out there who would do just that. So the day after Bill died I told all his neighbors around his home that Bill was gone so they would keep an eye out. Then I got plywood and spent most of a day sealing his house, moving boxes so I could get to windows and doors and screw plywood over the top.

At the apartment I got the landlord to change the locks and again notified all his neighbors I was the only one allowed in at any point. And the landlord and I came to agreement that I would have everything out in two months so he could clean and rent the place.

Back on the coast, Kris and I had two large storage units we were paying around $320 per month. I instantly went and rented two more. Then a week later, after spending even more time in Bill’s apartment and his home, I realized how many storage units I was going to need just to get his collections safe. So I started looking instead for a large house or a large office.

I ended up finding a 2,600 square foot office that I felt might serve as storage and an office for the growing WMG Publishing. I hired a wonderful moving company and they moved my two storage units up to the new office. It took two large truck loads. One per unit. By then I had a valid will and I started packing up Bill’s stuff.

Bill gave all his pulp magazines to Larry, so Larry worked on getting the pulp magazines out of Bill’s apartment while I started packing books and digests. Another friend named Dennis got most of Bill’s comics, so he was taking them out by the pickup load as well.

Over this entire process I borrowed bankers boxes from everyone who had them, and Bill had much of his stuff already in boxes. On top of all that, I bought exactly one thousand (1,000) white banker’s boxes from Staples. And had to unload some on shelves on this end to take them back and repack.

After eight large (26 foot) truck loads from Eugene, Oregon to the coast (A 2.5 hour drive one way), I had the apartment emptied.  Bill’s friend Dennis had taken the comic collection in three pick-up truck loads and Larry took many, many carloads of pulps out of the apartment to his house.

Now understand, I had not yet touched the full three-bedroom house. And my 2,400 square foot office was filling up.

Back this story up once again, since much of this was happening at once.

Bill died in Reno, Nevada, alone in a hotel room. Which thus meant the room was a crime scene and toxicology reports had to be ordered. Now, unlike television, Nevada sends such reports to some lab back east and it takes 9-12 weeks. And we needed those results before we could get a death certificate.

So no death certificate, no way for me to get to any of Bill’s money to fund all the work. Kris and I at that point were into this over $20,000 out of our own pocket. And I haven’t written anything but a couple short stories and that had stopped. And I had done no work for WMG Publishing either. It was estate seven days a week, from waking up to sleeping.

And then I get a call from the attorney. We had to have a death certificate within four weeks of filing the probate or we had to start over.

In case you aren’t catching the drift on this, Oregon is not a place anyone wants to die in, and this was costing a ton of attorney’s fees.

I talked to a very nice woman in Nevada Health and she said she would see what she could do. Three days before the deadline I got a personal letter from the head of the Nevada Health Department saying that Mr. Trojan had died and where and when, that a death certificate would be coming and was just waiting on some reports. My attorney scrambled with the official letter to the judge and somehow managed to get an extension on the death certificate requirement.

Five days later the death certificate came in.

Now I could go get Bill’s ashes and try to find his van, which in theory had been parked in the Sand’s Hotel parking lot since August. But no one there could confirm on the phone ever seeing it. So with my best friend from Boise (who is an attorney), I flew to Reno. No one at the Sands security remembered seeing the van, yet the coroner had the key and had parked it. And he told me where, but it wasn’t there. And there was no record of it being towed.

So on my first night there I was about to start a search of the Sands’ parking garage and the nice security people were showing me on their cameras how to do a search, when the manager of the entire hotel walked in. They told them what I was there for and he said, “Oh, I had that towed back in August.”

Then he had the security guy bring up on the camera a parking lot across the tracks from the Sands. And then he had the security guy focus in on a small back corner extension where the lot went around behind a warehouse. The manager said, “I had them put the van back there.”

From the Sand’s security, they could see the front bumper was all, so two of them went with me and we found the van. Both the security guys said they didn’t even realize the small area was owned by the Sands. So if that manager hadn’t come in when he did, I doubt I would have ever found Bill’s van.

$2,500 later in repairs and cleaning and such, Jim and I headed out of town in the van.

It’s now November and I am spending many nights in a hotel room in Eugene while packing up Bill’s house. Every week or so, two more truck loads would head for the coast with me driving one large U-Haul and my movers driving their truck.

By the end of November I was beyond exhaustion and my poor small 2,600 square foot office was jammed with almost no place to even walk. The photo on the right of me was taken during one of my short trips back here to the coast. Kris was getting worried about me and honestly, so was I.

Then I caught another break. The back half of the office building suddenly came open and I rented the extra 2,000 square feet. You see, up until that point, we were moving every box up a flight of stairs. The office was on the second floor. By renting the back half, we got a ramp. And an extra 2,000 square feet. Pure heaven.

So right before Thanksgiving we decided to bring two large truck loads out of Bill’s house. I packed and sorted and tossed garbage away for a solid week, then rented a 28 foot U-Haul and the movers showed up and we loaded the trucks while Larry worked on getting out the pulps that were in Bill’s house and Dennis came for another pickup truck load of comics. By six that evening we were headed back to the coast, me driving the large truck, the movers ahead of me by about an hour.

And we drove right into the worst storm of the year. 80-90 mph winds, pouring rain, a dark mountain road over the coast mountain range. Me carrying a truck-load of expensive books and magazines and not a chance of seeing the road. I have no idea how I made it, but somehow I kept the truck on the road and pulled into the office parking lot. But I paid a price for that trip and all the work. The stress caused a slight stroke in the back of my right eye and I lost most of my sight in that eye forever. (No worries, the doc has me and everything under control now. I’m fine, but you can tell I wasn’t so fine in that picture. (grin))

In the end, we put fifteen (15) large truck loads up into that office. And I worked all of January and February to put the space together so that we could hold the workshops there. It turned out fantastic, even better than I had dreamed. 4,600 square feet of Kris and my books and collectables combined with all of Bill’s. It’s like a kid’s clubhouse. Not kidding. And it’s going to be a fantastic working office for WMG Publishing.

As for the fun with the will, I managed to get the money to the charity Bill wanted to give a large share of his money to. I will forever be thankful to our attorney who did a fantastic job just getting this monster through the courts. In February, almost six months to the day after Bill died, the judge hammered the estate closed.

This last Monday I took the last van load of stuff out of Bill’s house and left a huge mess for the neighbors to take care of. But they got a great deal, so we both feel it was worth it. We finished the sale of the house at 2 PM on Monday, March 12th, seven months and 10 days after Bill died. And with that, it’s over for me.

So far Larry and I feel we have done justice to our close friend’s wishes. We didn’t let the State of Oregon auction it all off. And we didn’t have to hold an auction either to pay for things. We are holding his collections together as much as possible as he hoped would happen.

And I will now (after a couple more slight detours) be back writing and working on WMG Publishing. (The image on the right is part of the small workshop area. Best I can get in one shot.)

At some point, Kris is going to do a couple of business posts on her blog about all we learned about estates and what is needed in wills for writers and everyone in business. Watch for those. But before those clearly-reasoned posts, I have two suggestions.

— First, if your friend wants you to be his executor, say no.

— Second, get your own estate in order. Bill was one of my closest friends and I didn’t mind giving up my life for seven months and some of my health to honor his wishes. And I am also a collector, so his collection combined with mine will be stunning. So it was worth the cost I paid. And will keep paying in rent on 4,600 square feet.

But not all your friends may think that way. It’s always better to have things in order before you die. Just trust me on that.

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79 Responses to Personal Post: Estate Done

  1. Laura Ware says:

    Dean, I will repeat what others have said: you are a good friend. You sacrificed much to make sure his wishes were honored, and I salute you.

    I also agree that the WMG offices look awesome. Can’t wait to be back!

  2. Steve Fahnestalk says:

    Dino–
    Wow. I never knew Bill was a hoarder; I knew he was a major collector, and he turned me on to (and sold me) a large number of good books (including my precious Modesty Blaise signed copy of “Cobra Trap”) over the years.
    And I’m sorry you’ve lost sight in that eye. We get all wrapped up in our own lives and often fail to keep up with the lives of our old friends, so I hope you will take care of yourself! Don’t make Kris do it.
    Take care, buddy.

  3. Annie Reed says:

    Ah, yes. Crime scene work in my poor state is not as CSI shows it.

    You definitely went through a horror story with Bill’s estate. I’m so glad that’s finally behind you — except for all those boxes that still need unpacking. *g* At least now you have time and space to do that. The WMG offices are an amazing place. It was wonderful to be a part of the first workshops there.

    I know very little about estate work since that’s not my boss’s speciality. However, even trusts drawn up by specialists don’t always work as intended. My parents had a living trust prepared by an attorney who specialized in such things, and even though I was the sole remaining beneficiary of the trust after my mom passed away, I still had to probate my mom’s estate in order to take title to the house.

  4. Steve Perry says:

    Above and beyond, Dean.

  5. ML Powell says:

    So glad for you (and your friends) that it’s done. This explains all the “Under Construction” at the WMG site.

    One question about that site — a book is listed as available in “Book Card edition.” Is that a significant market? How do you work with Franklin and its “content partners”?

    I’m new to this blog and Kris’s (h/t Susan Kiernan-Lewis for the link) and am working my way through the abundance of information—priceless! Thank you so much for sharing.

    • dwsmith says:

      ML, book cards are like gift cards for a book. They are something very new and I will explain them again sometime soon. But basically they are gift cards where you go to a web site and download the form you want of the store or novel.

      As for WMG web site, watch for major changes starting in April as the new WMG publisher comes on board. She will be doing a weekly update blog there. She has a lot of messes to clean up that my lack of time and learning caused, but the changes will happen fast. Stay tuned.

  6. Jane Larsen says:

    One of the things that I thought of early on after Bill’s death was that I hoped his house was secured (and you took care of that beautifully). One of Bill’s friends from Portland died several years ago and his house was broken into and looted of books.

    glad to hear that you have pretty much concluded the estate and can now relax and get back to your own work.

    • dwsmith says:

      Jane, that problem up in Portland was one of the main reasons I boarded everything up. Also year’s earlier when Bill didn’t yet have a will, he used to joke that when he died, people could just come and loot his home. And people believed him. I got calls about it after he died. Not kidding.

  7. Wow. Just wow. An amazing and inspiring story…and I second (and third, and fourth) what others have said. You’re an amazing friend, hands down. Whatever he did for you, the fact that you appreciated it so much (and recognized that generosity in him in the first place) and wanted to do the same for him in return is more than most people manage, in my experience. Which is not a crack on other people, I just think that’s rare, is all. So yeah, wow.

    And the space is gorgeous. I really hope i get to see it in person soon. I’d heard it was lovely, but that one picture alone is stunning, really lovely.

  8. My husband is a superhero. I’ve been saying that for years. Now people are finally beginning to understand why. :-)

    Seriously, Dean & I were very fortunate to have Bill as a close friend. He had such a gruff exterior that a lot of people never understood why we tolerated him. I often wondered why he tolerated us. He did more kind things for people than anyone–including us–will ever know. One of those quiet angels.

    There was no question in our minds that we would do this for him. I’m not happy at the cost to Dean, and every day, I have marveled at all he has done. But we would do it again, even knowing what happened. (We would have asked Bill to get the will notarized, however.)

    Kris

  9. (And yes, I know that if Dean is Superman that makes me Lois Lane. I can accept that. I always wanted to be a Girl Reporter. Even a dumb one.)

  10. S. V. Rowle says:

    Job well done, Dean. You did Bill proud.

    As for Oregon estates, they cannot beat the hell that it is trying to sort out the estate of someone who dies in Paris and was born anywhere else, or someone who was a citizen of Japan but died in Hong Kong. *shudder, shudder* My friend’s relatives are dealing with the former and another friend with the latter.

    In Paris, they won’t even legally declare you dead unless the executor can find a copy of your birth certificate, marriage certificate, and verify the identities of ALL of your descendants. They wanted all of this person’s children to show up in Paris in person to sign a bunch of documents, even though these people had ostensibly nothing to do with this person’s death or the disposal of the body or the estate. Imagine if relatives were estranged.

    Now add in the fact that this person was born almost a century ago on a small island where documents routinely disappear due to hurricanes or are destroyed by humidity because the government is too poor to maintain, much less digitize them.

    I salute you. Count your lucky stars Bill wasn’t a dual citizen or an ex-pat when he died.

  11. Holy shit Dean, Kris just pointed me to this wrapup post on what you’ve been dealing with since last year. In a word: wow. I’d known about some of it, but wasn’t aware things had become so insanely protracted! Will need to hie to Lincoln City next year and spock out the WMG offices. I would say you did blessed work on behalf of Bill Trojan, and everyone who cared about him.

  12. Dean, I think what makes you a superhero is how you focus on what Bill accomplished in his life instead of the sacrifices you made for his estate. Well done.

    Really sorry to hear about your eye, knees, and ribs, though.

    Hoarding is a terrible illness (she says, with feeling, with personal family experience). Congratulations on honoring Bill during his life and after his death.

    • dwsmith says:

      Thanks, Melissa. He was such a great guy under his gruff exterior. Still miss him every damn day. Honoring him is the least I can do.

  13. Steve Galvin says:

    Have to say, I really admire you folks, both for what you are to each other, your friends, and the community of people who follow your blogs.
    The eye thing is a bit of a bummer, but it’s good to see you take it in your stride.
    I have only been reading your blog for a few weeks, but I find it very inspirational, so thanks to you both.
    Regards,
    from Ireland.

  14. No, first HAVE AN INVENTORY.

    I’m dealing with three estates of fine antique weapons here, and some can’t be identified.

    Others are IDed, but I have no idea where they came from and if the owner knew what he had and what they were worth, nor what he paid for them. That’s not critical, but it sure would be informative.

    Make sure your family knows where this inventory is, and what your stuff might be worth, and why, and that they understand the benefit to them and history of tracking it.

    Then get a will written simply enough that contesting it is difficult and not worth the effort to someone’s lawyer, dot all Ts, cross all Is, have a lawyer check it, and don’t change it without careful consideration. Keep copies on file with relevant parties and in a safe or with a lawyer. In some places, you can even file it as a public document.

    Don’t fiddle-fart around with the will in case everything gets sold, abandoned or dumped in the process. Or lost because you don’t have a friend with time, resources and patience to save it from the state or the dumpster.

    • dwsmith says:

      I’m in Vegas working at the Superstars conference and having a blast. I’ll answer long comments when I get back.

  15. Oufff. I was thinking of your back with all this moving! Then your eye… I feel relief for you that it’s over, even if the loss of a friend is still real.

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