Sunday, November 20, 2016

Coming Out of the Fog

Well, where to begin....

First of all, I want to thank all of you for your kind, supportive and helpful comments in regards to my situation with my brother.

I was finally able to speak with him, and I feel much better at least in the sense of not being so angry with him anymore. I'm still not sure that he'll be able to get it together to actually close out the estate, but I tried to help him craft a plan with concrete steps for moving forward and he did actually follow through with step one. So we'll see how it goes.

So, I sorta feel like it's been an entire lifetime since I last posted. I've been really sick - caught a bad case of bronchitis about a week an a half ago, and then I did something to my neck and have been dealing with muscle spasms, so I feel a bit as though I've been in a stupor of sorts.

On top of that, the weather has been downright schizophrenic. Over the course of 24 hours we went from 80 degree (27C) summer-like heat, to this:

It got down into the teens the night after the snowfall (-9C) - holy moly!  Truth be told, we were long overdue for some winter weather - this was the third latest first snowfall in Denver history, but still - a temperature swing of 65 degrees over 36 hours felt a tad bit extreme and otherworldly.

Then, of course, there's the election. I was as shocked as everyone by the outcome, and while I have plenty of political opinions on the whole thing, there doesn't seem to be much point in focusing on that stuff. Instead, I'm trying to craft a plan to deal with the very real fallout that the change of political climate will have in my own life.

As a self-employed person, I get my health insurance through the exchange, and no matter what happens, I think it's a safe bet that the ACA (Obamacare) will be going away. Trump has promised that they will replace it with something "better," but if house Republicans have their way, they'll be repealing the ACA immediately. Either way, I think it's prudent for me to be prepared.

Of course, that begs the question... prepared for what? I think it's sort of hard to say, but since all of the proposals I've heard involve doing away with both the subsidies and the restrictions on how much insurance companies can bump up prices for older people, I'm pretty sure my insurance costs will skyrocket - that is, assuming I can still get insurance.

The only thing I really have to go on is what things looked like for the self-employed before the ACA, and well... it's sort of grim. Back then, most self-employed people I knew who were over 50 were lucky to get a catastrophic care policy for under $1000/month. Many were paying in the neighborhood of $1200-$1500 per month, and often that was for a policy that excluded pre-existing conditions. Gulp.

So, I'm sort of figuring that I'm gonna need somewhere in the neighborhood of $15-$20K annually for health care costs. And since they're also talking about dismantling Medicare, I think it's safe to assume that even after age 65, I'll be paying a lot more for health care than I thought.

As you may have guessed, that amount of money is simply not in my budget at the moment. All of this means that I'm gonna have to make some big changes in my life strategy, and focus all of my energies on making money for a while.

To that end, for the past week and a half I've spent pretty much every waking moment (or at least those when I wasn't coughing up a lung or swacked out on muscle relaxants) working on my business.

Whether I'll be able to continue to support myself being self-employed remains to be seen, but I've put my geek hat back on, and so far I've taught myself to write Wordpress themes, I'm learning how to write apps, and I'm researching cloud hosting and other strategies to cut my business costs to the bone.

What this all means for the future of this blog... well, I'm not sure. I hope to continue blogging, though it will certainly have to take a back seat for a while, and I may end up reworking some of the material I've written into a eBook or two.

I'm not really happy about that prospect, but desperate times call for desperate measures, and if that move allows me to continue to be self-employed rather than becoming an employee again, it will be well worth it.

So there you have it. Heavy sighs all around.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Guys, I Need Some Advice

OK, first of all - I'm sorry for a downer post, that has nothing to do with cats, or simple living, or minimalism, or anything else having to do with this blog - and that is admittedly a bit of a rant. But I really feel like I need some input from people who are completely removed from this situation.

So here's my conundrum. You might remember that my mother died suddenly back in 2013. She and I were pretty much estranged - which is a whole different topic, but somewhat relevant to the current situation.

Long story short - my parents divorced when I was 4 and my brother was 6. I'm not entirely sure how to describe the psychology of what happened next, other than to say that it was somewhat Freudian. Dad moved out, and my mother and brother became increasingly close, while my relationship with both my mother and brother became increasingly distant, hostile, and competitive. By the time I was in Jr. High school, I had basically moved into the basement of our house, and was, to a great extent, treated more like a roommate than a member of the family - or at least, that's how it felt from my end. And the distance and hostility between my mother and I only got worse from there.

By the time of her death, she and I would communicate a few times a year via email and that was about it. The distance was mostly my doing, because I simply couldn't take the hostility and other "stuff" (too complicated to go into) that was part and parcel of dealing with her.  Meanwhile, she and my brother had weekly phone conversations, spent all their holidays and vacations together, etc., and. well, that's basically the only significant relationship my brother has ever had - at least as far as I can tell. He's never had a close friend, or even a non-close friend, just work related acquaintances. He's always had a distant and adversarial relationship with my father, and he's never dated anyone or really had much of any social interactions outside of those with my mother - at least that I know of.

So when she died suddenly, I felt like it was only proper for me to take a backseat to my brother in terms of settling the estate etc. I did end up planning the funeral (which was a little weird) but my brother honestly didn't seem capable of making the necessary decisions, and was actually quite grateful that I offered to do it.

But, dealing with the estate has been a whole different matter. My mother didn't have a will, and my brother wanted to administer the estate, so I said that was fine, and agreed that I would do whatever he needed or wanted me to do to help him.

Now, I don't know how these sorts of things "normally" go, but honestly, it's just been really, really strange from day one. He's been bizarrely possessive of her belongings - all with the guise that he's following some sort of legal framework. But it's all been quite nonsensical.

Here are a few examples: Mom was into crafts, especially basket making. So I thought it would be nice if we brought some of her baskets to the funeral to display, and then let people take one as a memento if they wanted. He refused - stating that we didn't own the baskets, the estate did, and that we didn't have the legal authority to give them away or even display them at the funeral. In the end they all got taken to a thrift store.

Similarly, my mother had one fairly close friend - the two of them used to enjoy going to crafts fairs together. Anyhow, this friend asked if she could have a few things that my mother had bought during one of those outings - just a few trinkets - a letter opener and something else that I can't remember. My brother started insisting that she pay us for them. I couldn't take it on that one, and told the friend that she could have the items, and then told my brother that I would pay for them. Finally that one ended when I contacted the paralegal helping with the estate to enlist her help in gathering the items, and I got her to call my brother and convince him that it was OK to give Mom's friend the items.

Then there are the letters. My mother had apparently written a number of letters addressed to me which she never mailed. I have no idea what's in these letters, or when they were written, or really anything else about them, because my brother gathered them up and has refused to let me see them or have them - once again stating that they belong to the estate, not to me. This one really burned me, but I decided to just let it go. Maybe some day I'll get to read the letters, maybe I won't. And depending on what they say, that could be a good or bad thing.

So anyhow, that's how things went with the estate. Every step has been like pulling teeth. And finally about 2 years ago, I just gave up and stopped making offers of help, or nudging him, or even asking how it was going. At that point, the only thing that was still hanging fire was a time share condo that she owned (where the two of them used to vacation). He said he didn't want the thing, and I surely don't, but you can't really sell those things, so he's just been sitting on it paying out the $1000 maintenance fee each year. I had tried and tried and tried to help him by doing research on how to get rid or it, and I tried to get him to call them and see if we could simply deed it back to the company - but nothing. I thought about going behind his back and calling the company, but decided against it. That's where it all got left 2 years ago. Then, about 6 months ago out of the blue, I got an email from my brother saying that he'd finally called the timeshare company (I'm wondering if maybe they contacted him) and discovered that we could actually deed it back to them for a $200 fee - imagine that. Anyhow, I replied that we should do that, and that's the last I ever heard of it.

So that brings us to today (well mostly - I left out a lot of gory details). I received a legal notice from the lawyer handling the estate saying that he's withdrawing effective mid-November. Basically he's going to be retiring soon and is clearing out cases that haven't, ahem, had any activity in over a year.

I called my brother to talk about it, but he didn't pick up the phone, so I left a message expressing my concern. I was out today when he called back and left a very curt and angry message saying that it wasn't anything to worry about, that he was working on locating another lawyer, and that he didn't think there was anything to discuss.

I honestly don't think there is anything left to "settle" where the estate is concerned. Most of her money (such as it was) was in a retirement account, and since she had named us both as beneficiaries, that money was simply divided between the two of us without going through probate. The rest is pretty inconsequential in terms of the amount. Her house (trailer, actually) was sold, and most of her belongings liquidated within the first 6 months or so after she died, so I just don't understand why the estate is still not settled. I'm sure there's some sort of document to be filed or something official that has to be done in order to declare the thing finished, but my brother seems either unwilling or unable to take that step.

So here's my conundrum. I gave up years ago, and had pretty much assumed that the estate would just never be settled. But now this has re-opened the whole ugly topic, so I'm trying to decide if I should do anything (meaning call my brother back and ask him what the hold up is, and/or suggest that we just settle it now rather than getting a new lawyer) or if I should just stay out of it and let him do what he's gonna do.

It's pretty clear to me that my brother is much more of an emotional mess than I ever realized, and that on some level he's just not capable of bringing this to closure - either that, or he's just really angry with me and is being passive aggressive. I don't really want to push him or upset him, but it has been over three years, and I really don't like the idea of having an unsettled legal matter hanging over my head.

So what would you do? Both CatMan and my father think that I should push it, at least to a point. CatMan thinks I should go so far as to petition the court to take over the estate, but both Dad and I are pretty dead set against that one. Honestly, I just don't know what to do. Part of me is concerned that pushing it might actually cause my brother to do something crazy - not exactly sure what sort of crazy, but it just seems like he's not exactly functioning normally, and I wouldn't want to be responsible for pushing him over some sort of emotional edge.

I'm really sorry to write such a long, ranting and negative post, but I'm just feeling like I need some outside thoughts on this one. I'd be totally grateful for any ideas y'all might have. Sigh.