By Lisa Steadwell
I grew up with my grandmother from the age of 6. She stepped into my life when my mother suffered a mental breakdown and was ultimately institutionalized. Both my brother (currently deceased) and I were going to be handed over to the foster care system if she didn’t. To date, I
am thrilled that she did. Her husband, we called him Pops, was also instrumental in my upbringing. I didn’t have my father in my life, so he filled that void and treated me like I was his daughter. Thanks to him, I stayed on track, graduating from high school, and being the first in my family to graduate from college.
They were getting on in age, and it was time for them to get their affairs in order. However, they were always skeptical of everyone, including each other. On July 21, 2013, Pops died of a heart attack. My grandmother was left to carry on by herself at 89 years old, along with my aunt, 84,
her sister, and my uncle, 68, her son. The only trouble was, Pops took care of all the paperwork in the house. My grandmother was dependent on him for important matters because she only had a fourth-grade education. Although she was capable of handling money, legal issues were his
forte since he was highly educated back home in Trinidad, where he was a banker at the Bank of New York. Though she entrusted him with legal matters, she did not trust him. Rightly so, because he was a womanizer. She did not want to see what she had built to go to someone else.
Upon his death, my grandmother had to manage her affairs. Unfortunately, she fell earlier in her life and had surgery on her back and was never the same. I stepped in to fill that void and took total charge of her affairs. I became what she was to me when my mother fell ill when I was a child. I was responsible for bringing her to doctor visits, paying her bills, and making sure her house was in order. I did this until she was 95 years old. Throughout those years, I kept telling her that she needed to make a will, a living will, put a durable power of attorney in order and allocate someone to be her healthcare proxy. I saw a paralegal course offered by the New American Chamber of Commerce, so I took advantage of the opportunity to educate myself further on the various areas of law. These courses would become instrumental in helping my grandmother, uncle, and aunt.
Over those six years, she would hear me but would brush me off, because she trusted no one. She would tell me that what she has is for me. I would respond to her over and over that unless it was in writing, no, it was not. At age 94, in 2018, she finally decided to assign me as her healthcare
proxy and assign me to act on her behalf if she couldn’t anymore with a durable power of attorney.
The following year, she put aside her trust issues and made her will in the summer of 2019. In September, she became ill as her hemoglobin dropped to an alarming low. After being rushed to the hospital, her health took a turn for the worse. I took a month off from work to clean up the house and go back and forth to the hospital to take care of the woman who took care of me when I needed her most. She had a heart attack, fell into a coma and never came out of it. On one of my visits with her, I grabbed her hand and told her not to worry, that I am taking care of things, that she should get better. I don’t know if she heard me, but I hope she did.
The week that she was supposed to come home to be taken care of in the home hospice setting, she never made it. On Sunday, November 3, 2019, the woman who was the matriarch of our family, was no more. As I wrote in her obituary, she was a force to be reckoned with, but she did the best she knew on how to take care of her family and truly cared for them. I miss her so very much, and her house, which is currently in probate, was willed to me, will forever be referred to as, “My grandmother’s house.”
It is with a heavy heart that I write this heartfelt message to those like my grandmother. Stop procrastinating to elect someone to leave your worldly possessions. You never know when your time may come. The sequence leading to her death was so rapid. The Kobe Bryant tragedy is one of many examples of death occurring at any time. With all of my grandmother’s hesitation, all her worldly possessions are left behind. You cannot take it with you. You need to exercise a sense of urgency, select wisely, make a will, make a durable power of attorney, make a living will, and put your assets in a living trust, so that your heirs don’t have to worry about going through probate. The unlikely person is usually the likely person to help you in times of need.
Lisa Steadwell is a student in the Chamber Coalition Paralegal Certificate Program. For details about this program, please visit www.freeparalegal.org
If you need advice relating to issues of wills, estate planning and probate or any other legal matter, please call 855-768-8845 or visit www.askthelawyer.us to schedule a free case evaluation. Remember, the lawyer you hire does make a difference!