Family Money: Carving the Oklahoma Pie

Topeka Capital-Journal
April 28, 1997

You’ve heard this before: put some relatives and family members around a table, and in the center put some money or valuables to be divided among them, and you’ll see some greed, resentment and even some skullduggery. I am speaking as a victim when I say I’ve been there.

I was done in by my own blood brother, who lives in Dallas. Like most highbinders, he says now it was all a mistake, and he even places the blame on an Oklahoma lawyer, one of the worst kind, who is now deceased, making him one of the best kind.

I’d like to believe him, but his mistake – if you want to call it that – was so enormous, and the stakes were so high, that it is difficult for me to do. I’ll tell you the sordid story, and you be the judge.

As you read this, consider the possibility of a conspiracy among all the relatives involved in this, and try to think of a reliable lawyer who might represent me. I realize “reliable lawyer” is oxymoronic, and I may have to settle for considerably less.

This all started with my Aunt Elizabeth Shively, known throughout the family as Buel, died, and I eventually was named executor of her estate. She never was married. Included in her estate were some lots in Oklahoma City she left equally to her brother and two sisters.

Her brother Ed, who had lived in Wyoming was dead, and so was his wife and son, Jack, who was a fighter pilot in World War II, and was killed in combat. The airport in their hometown of Saratoga Wyoming, is named for him. Ed’s one-third interest in the lots therefore went to his daughter, who we’ll call Jane, because that’s her name, and she’s the lone survivor.

Buel’s younger sister, Mary, was dead, and then when her husband, Bill Garthoeffner, died, their only child, Bill Jr., took over Mary’s one-third interest in the property.

Again, allow me to note here the aeronautical influence of our close family. My Uncle Bill was one of the pioneer pilots in Oklahoma, getting his license in the early 1930s, and owning maybe a dozen airplanes in his long career. He was one of the first, if not the first, flying traveling salesman.

Buel’s older sister, Leona, my mother, received the other one-third interest in the lots. When she died, her three sons, including yours truly, each inherited one-third of her one-third, or one-ninth. If these fractions seem to be getting rather minuscule, keep in mind there’s a lot of money involved.

My brother, Al, former Navy an airline pilot, was executor of my mother’s estate, and as such was supposed to see to it that ownership rights to the property passed legally from her to the sons. We counted on him, and he says he counted on the Oklahoma lawyer. Unlikely story.

The years rolled by, and I naively believed my interest in the land was secure, and that any day I would be informed there had been a big-time sale and my check was on the way. Dream on.

Meanwhile, my other brother Dan, had been dead for several years, Marjorie, died. That meant Dan’s one-ninth interest had to be split up, giving each of them one-twenty-seventh.

At that time, it occurred to me that maybe I should divide my one-ninth among my five children, giving each one-forty-fifth. Then, I wondered if I should include my nine grandchildren, which means each of my children and grandchildren would have a one-one-hundred-twenty-sixth interest in the property.

While I was figuring this up, the executor of Marjorie’s estate, her older son Steve, who lives in Tulsa, went to the courthouse in Oklahoma City to take care of his business and he learned my brother Al and his Oklahoma lawyer, hadn’t taken care of their business.

All these years, brother Al hadn’t split up my mother’s one third. He was sitting on it, and then, to further complicate things, he gave his two sons one-ninth, or one-eighteenth, and unwittingly, he says, kept the other two-ninths. That left Steve from Tulsa, and yours truly, with no ninths.

What brother Al hadn’t forgotten to do, however, year after year, was bill us for our share of the taxes on the property. We were shelling out annually for property we didn’t even legally own.

Caught red-handed, brother Al now is helping Steve get it all straightened out and is telling us “never trust a lawyer.”

If you’ve read this far, by now you want to know what the property is worth. I’ll tell you. The county assessor says one set of two lots is worth $500 one set of four Lots is valued at $1,000 and the final set of 2 is worth $9,450, for a grand total of $10,950. I told you there was a lot of money at stake.

My one-ninth interest alone is worth about $1,216, even if I don’t sue anybody for the pain and anguish I’ve suffered. However, if the lots sell I probably will give the money to my children as an indication of how much I think of them. I think $243 apiece is about right.

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