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Too Good for This World

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Too Good for This World

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I've been at my father's law firm a hundred times before, but always with my father. Not today.

Today I'm sitting in the office of a partner named Charlotte. I've brought Jack with me just to have a lawyer there who has nothing to gain to hold my hand through the process. He was surprised to hear from me many months after the last time we'd seen each other, but as I explained, other than my father - and Jenny, who won't return my phone calls or e-mails - he's probably the lawyer I know best. Right now he's quite literally holding my hand.

My father's fiancée Elaine is also there, although she's already announced her intention to renounce any inheritance she would've received.

Charlotte has been writing numbers down on a piece of paper while she talks, but I haven't paid very much attention. Then she turns it to face me and asks me if I have any questions, so I look.

And I squint. "The house can't possibly be worth that much. Is that a current appraisal? I mean, with the market what it is right now..."

"No, that's - let me go back a few steps, Debra." Charlotte takes a deep breath. "These numbers make up the corpus of the estate exclusive of the house. The house will pass through probate separately, at which point it's up to you what you do with it. The brokerage account, the 401(k), CDs, basic checking, if it makes it easier, think of those as pure cash. The number at the bottom is the total."

I look again. "That can't be right." I squeeze Jack's hand harder.

"It's right, at least according to the papers we've been able to pull together. You shouldn't hold us to an exact figure, especially since the value of some of his investments is still changing from day to day. But as your father's executrix, I'll be liquidating those anyway. That is, unless you have some special desire to, say, hold onto some shares of stock instead of receiving what they're worth." I shake my head slowly.

Hold it together, I tell myself, even as my eyes start to burn. "He should have been able to enjoy this. This was for his retirement, he deserved to enjoy all this." I look at Elaine. "This should have paid for a beautiful wedding and a few dozen vacations." She pats my thigh, and I take a deep breath. I force the tears back.

"I don't disagree, Debra, and I'm terribly sorry," says Charlotte. "Of course a portion of the corpus will be used to pay the estate's expenses, but it'll be a very small portion."

"Isn't there some kind of estate tax? I mean, the government gets half, or a third, or something, right?"

"Not this year," says Jack. "Right, Charlotte?"

She nods. "There's no federal estate tax in 2010. There was in 2009 and there will be again in 2011, and no, that doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me either, but that's the way Congress chose to do it."

A short while later, Elaine has signed her Disclaimer of Interest, given me a long hug, and gone. Charlotte leaves Jack and me by ourselves in her office to talk. I sit there staring at my hands.

"I don't want it, Jack. I don't deserve it."

He leans in and strokes my hair. "You certainly deserve it more than the government does, and that's who would get it if you also renounce."

"Okay, then charity. I should give it to charity."

"Promise me, Debra, before you make any big decisions, that you'll sit down with a financial advisor to talk about it." I nod, and he continues. "Do you know any financial advisors?"

I laugh. "Will is a financial advisor. That won't be awkward at all." Jack smiles, and waves Charlotte back in.

A while later, I arrive home to find a package from Amazon.com waiting for me. I open it - a reader named Danno has sent me a Brian Vander Ark CD from my wishlist, "Angel, Put Your Face On." The note on the packing slip says, "I'm so sorry for your loss. We're all thinking of you." I slide down the wall until I'm sitting on the floor, I grasp the CD to my chest, and I finally start weeping.

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