The moment that I felt utterly incapacitated didn’t happen as I signed the end-of-life paperwork. Nor did it hit me when men from the Richmond County morgue came to take my father away.
The fact that my life had instantly transitioned into a foreign, new reality was finally processed for me when my dad’s business partner showed me around their recycling business—a venture that I knew absolutely nothing about.
Giant Caterpillar machinery peppered the grounds. Workers were busy hauling enormous piles of twisted metal into what appeared to be distinct batches of aluminum, steel and copper.
And there I stood, wondering how a woman who spent her days moving words around at a media job was going to speed learn how to manage a scrap metal business.
There was also another slight problem: My father had died with no estate plan in place. In fact, he didn’t even have a will.
In hindsight, as mind-numbing and rage-provoking as the last five years have been for me moonlighting as the sole executor of his estate, there are some invaluable lessons that I’ve picked up during the process—ones that have had an impact on my approach to finances and life.
An Otherwise Wise Money Manager
It was the early 1990s, and my father had a rather unusual (and highly risky) proposition for me: How would I feel about having my own AmEx card?
I say risky because I was just a teenager at the time, and my dad was not someone who approached financial decisions lightly—let alone one that involved letting his not-even-old-enough-to-drive teenager tote around plastic that he’d cosigned on.
Ultimately, I suspect that he knew his always-responsible daughter would take the challenge seriously. (And I did.) He also respected the value of lessons learned through personal experience—and was wise to just how important it was to properly build up credit in early adulthood.
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But his overarching goal for me ran much deeper: As his only child, he wanted me to grow up to be a financially savvy woman who could take care of herself.
He must have done something right because I carried this lesson into my adult life, enabling me to buy my first piece of property before the age of 25. Of course, I could never have divined that, years later, it would also come in handy when I’d have to single-handedly tackle his complicated estate.
Actually, complicated would be an understatement, but my father was just that: a highly complicated man. He could be incredibly brilliant when it came to money, yet his ability to master personal relationships teetered on the brink of disaster.
So the fact that he hadn’t conveyed much about his estate to his daughter didn’t surprise me. The fact that he hadn’t thought about it himself did. This brings me to …