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  • I SHOT this photo to document, and to celebrate, arrival at the end of a two-year paperwork labyrinth, sorting out the estate of a certain fellow (let's call him Willie, not his real name) who died suddenly at age 60, leaving not only his personal affairs, but also the personal affairs of his long-deceased father, in a complete, chaotic mess.

    I love a good puzzle, but I must confess that this one often had me shaking with rage, desperation and frustration at how any person could take so little care of himself, in such practical matters as cashing checks (which he often didn't do), and keeping track of the other simple, mundane details of living.

    I never met the guy, but his uncle is a friend of mine and one of the sole surviving heirs, and he asked me to handle the administration of Willie's estate — as well as the estate of Willie's late father.

    Despite his pseudonym, Willie didn't leave a will — no surprise there — and lived alone in a big old house down in the countryside. Apparently, Willie was a more or less textbook specimen of hoarder, and he created pathways through all manner of accumulated…uh… order to get to such key locations as the bathroom, the kitchen, and whatever other places he frequented on a more or less regular basis.

    Willie was a recluse. Despite as much assistance as his uncle, his aunt, and a number of well-meaning neighbors and charitable organizations could provide, he lived like a pauper. Before people could go into the house and begin the Herculean cleanup task in earnest, an exterminator had to be called in to eliminate a serious rodent, insect and mold problem.

    When a phalanx of hired and volunteer workers finally cleaned out the house, and after I sorted out the wheat from the chaff, we found that Willie had left a gross estate worth over a quarter of a million dollars, and had accumulated some interesting collections of coins, stamps, antiques and other collectibles, many of which had to be dug out of piles in the attic, but all of which fetched respectable purchase prices at sale.

    As all of this cleaning-up and sorting-out was going on, three long-lost cousins, under the aegis of a lawyer who might be viewed as a bit of a bottom-feeder, popped out of the woodwork and put in their claims for their respective pounds of the decedent's flesh, much to the chagrin of my client, the uncle, who with his wife had done so much to look out for poor Willie during his lifetime. Ah, well, the law of intestacy says what it says, and there you are.

    What you see in the picture is the very tip of the tip of the iceberg. It is with much the sense of Balboa first viewing the Pacific that my helpers and I will be rounding up all these papers and putting them, respectfully (perhaps with a metaphoric 12-gun salute), in storage.

    And, of course, issuing some rather bodacious checks to very pleasantly surprised survivors — and their hard-working attorney.
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