'Til Death Do Us Part...
The battle for a statewide domestic-partnership registry isn’t just a policy fight. It’s personal.
Published: April 9, 2013
He wouldn’t be there.
On April 18, with the help of numerous friends who gathered with flowers and food and well wishes in the aftermath of Alan’s death, I managed to throw a memorial service for Alan at the Abbey in Thornton Park. I’d received a FedEx package with a bag of Alan’s ashes the day before, and placed them in an urn. I created a PowerPoint of images, a playlist of songs, and took to the stage in a shattered state to sputter kindnesses and tears to an audience of more than 100, from politicians to co-workers to fellow journalists to friends and acquaintances.
That night, attorney and LGBT activist Mary Meeks offered her services should I need them. We agreed to meet the next day. I arrived at her office, stack of estate documents in hand. She pulled the top sheet off – a copy of the will, which, as the sole beneficiary named in that document, I would need to file in court – and explained that this was the only document that mattered. Everything else died when Alan did.
Things were about to get messy. Though I had given Alan’s brother a copy of the will – in which he left everything to me – and though I’d received vague assurances that I’d be taken care of, I discovered that Alan’s family had filed probate with the Orange County Court on April 16, eight days after his death, naming Alan’s mother as both the personal representative and sole beneficiary of his estate. The family’s attorney later emailed Meeks that she had not seen a will, so the family would be required to file as next of kin. It was as if I didn’t exist – or at least Alan’s will didn’t.
After Meeks dispatched an angry email to the family’s Florida attorney, promising that neither she nor the local LGBT legal community would let me get railroaded, the family acknowledged the will’s existence. This was the beginning, not the end.
The initial probate declaration was reversed, and I was declared the personal representative for Alan’s estate. We got a court order to have the items that were removed from the house returned. Figuring out exactly what those items were was no easy feat, considering that I’d been completely oblivious at the time they were taken. I knew about the cars, the computers, some paperwork, tools from the garage and the mower. I didn’t ask them to return our dog, Ferdinand, who they’d also taken the day they showed up at my house; I gave him up as a gesture of kindness to Alan’s mother, as Ferdinand always traveled with Alan back and forth to Georgia.
After several sternly worded reminders, the family sent most of the items back on a hauler and promised the rest would come back in boxes from the family’s attorney. Not everything was returned – there were definitely some power tools missing – but it was too exhausting to nitpick.
Though the family had agreed not to contest the will, within a few weeks things became acrimonious anyway. Accusations began to fly. The family claimed that Alan, who wasn’t there to defend himself, had removed valuables from a safe-deposit box and misspent his mother’s and the company’s money, funneling some of it to me. All of these claims were dubious at best, and the last was easily rebuffed by an examination of my bank account. The most difficult to digest was the suggestion that the family might go after the rings on my finger. I felt like a discarded mistress.
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