Looking back on 2019

As this year winds down, I take this moment to glance in the rearview mirror to see what transpired in this year.

I did look at my posts from the start of 2019, and alas, I failed to live up to many of my goals. I did exercise more, and even bought a new bicycle that helped motivate me. But the big drag was my role as trustee/executor of my stepfather’s estate. That consumed hundreds of hours of my time, and amped up my stress into the stratosphere.

But now that I am reflecting, I will go into more detail.

The Estate

My stepfather passed away during the night of November 30, 2018, leaving me the executor and trustee of his estate. Thus began a nightmarish process of dealing with heirs, step siblings, and all the messiness.

The biggest contributor to my stress overload in 2019 was dealing with the estate. Not much of value besides the house in Sunnyvale, a 10 minute walk from the new Apple headquarters, it was in deplorable condition. While it had a new roof (ok, 8 years old), the rest of the house was in its original state, as built in 1958. It even had the original heater and ductwork.

The house

Since my mother passed away in 2005, the maintenance and daily upkeep had been lagging, add to that the cohabitation with my stepbrother who brought his girlfriend and her daughter to the house, it was filled to capacity, and the condition when he finally left in late January was truly appalling. As I walked through the house with my attorney, I was shaking my head at what was found.

Of course, the attorney said that she had seen worse, and while I don’t doubt her, I was still in a state of shock. You can think of the entire house being like the pictures above.

Thus began a two month process of sorting through the flotsam and jetsam of a lifetime looking for any items with tangible or sentimental value. Alas, remarkably little was found. Mostly pictures, and some personal documents.

I should point out that my stepfather was a child of the depression, born in 1933, he was a lifelong hoarder, and I found a lot of junk. Old tools, scraps, metric shit-tons of loose nuts, bolts and other fasteners. I am convinced that his hoarding was one of the reasons why he didn’t cash out of the house and buy a bigger motorhome to go on the road full time. He didn’t want to deal with the shit in the house.

After 8 weekends, and three 30 cubic yard dumpsters filled and hauled away, I had found all the valuables that were there to find (almost none, my stepfather’s cameras, electronics, computers, and his prized toy Lionel trains from his youth were gone), I bit the bullet and paid a junk removal service to take the last 40 or so cubic yards to the dump, and then engaged a realtor to help rehabilitate the house.

Alas, the original plans, refinish the original hardwood floors, kitchen remodel, both bathrooms being tarted up, and landscaping before painting and putting it on the market was thwarted by the grim realities of the house.

First, the hardwood floors were unsalvageable. They were neglected and abused for far too long, and would have to be replaced instead of refinished.

Second, the initial inspection showed that the heater was beyond its service life, and a hazard of poisoning the occupants with carbon monoxide. Not surprising as it was old enough to file for Social Security, but it would have to be replaced. And when the HVAC team looked into replacing it, they found ductwork insulated with asbestos. Add new ductwork and abatement to the list.

Third, my stepbrother had built the garage into a bit of a woodworking workshop, and used his journeyman electrician skills (cough – cough) to add power throughout the garage. Unfortunately, a lot of the wiring was not up to code, and it took our initial home inspector 6 additional hours to document all that was wrong with the wiring (it cost us almost $10K to fix and properly permit the electrical wiring before we were done).

Fourth, my stepbrother had built a greenhouse in the back yard. I am not sure why my stepfather allowed this, but it happened. It was sunk into the ground, and I couldn’t find any evidence of permits for it in the county records, but since it wasn’t a living area it was OK to leave. Originally, our intent was to remove it, as it consumed about 30% of the usable space in the back yard. But with our overruns in the budget to renovate, we left it as is.

Unfortunately, my stepbrother felt that he deserved extra disbursement of funds from the estate since he built the green house on his dime. Even to the point of coming to my house to plead his case. Too bad, because if he had spent $30K upgrading the kitchen living in the house (a better use of funds) he still wouldn’t have received a dime more according to the trust.

When the house finally went on the market, it stood out.

It went on the market for $1.798M middle of the pack for the area (although there weren’t many comparable properties on the market in the spring, there was also a belief that the market was stronger than it was). It took 3 weeks to get an offer, but it was a solid offer by a young couple who worked at Google and Facebook, who could afford the house. A few blocks north, and we would have had better schools (cupertino) and probably got $400K more.

There was a house that had no upgrades, but was in better condition than we started at, that ultimately sold for $1.4M. I believe had we done the minimum, we would have struggled to find a buyer, and would have gotten less than that $1.4M to someone who would tear it down and rebuild.

I feel like I did well for the trust.

Side note on my stepbrother. He lived there from 2007 until early 2019, call it 11 years. I could find no evidence that he paid rent (no monthly deposits), and that all the usual bills were paid by my stepfather, the utilities, power, gas, TV, internet, etc. My stepbrother and his live in girlfriend and her daughter had rent free lodging for 11 years. Knowing that rent for half a house in that area would be at a minimum $2K a month, he got over $260K of free rooming. And he was bitching about a fucking greenhouse that he likely built to grow cannabis to sell to dispensaries (which he would be prevented from doing because he has felony convictions on his record).

Credit Card Fraud

Dealing with the house was enough stress, however, when my stepfather passed away, he had just returned from the hospital to his house to hospice care. He knew that the end was near, and he didn’t want to die in the hospital like my Mother did 13 years earlier.

Unfortunately, he only lasted 3 days at home before he passed away. In that time, we were able to get the contents of one of the two safes in the house (the safe with the important documents), and the new Jeep Cherokee. But his wallet disappeared.

When it reappeared, “magically” his “girlfriend” – Emelita – had it, and turned it over to me two days later, it was missing all money and most of the credit cards.

There was not much I could do, if my stepfather was still alive, I could have used my power of attorney to contact and close accounts, but on his death, I needed to wait the 15 days or so it would take to get his death certificate.

In that time, someone (hint: the stepbrother) went on shopping sprees with the credit cards. He ran up the Discover card to $15K, the Citibank card to $2K, Target to $1500, and more fuckery at Home Depot. He even tried to open a new credit card in my stepfather’s name (fortunately, I had called the credit agencies and reported his passing.

This led to three visits to the SJPD, two incident reports, and a lot of time on the phone with creditors. For the record, Discover and Target were amazing to deal with, Citibank was a fucking disaster (and Home Depot is a white labeled Citi account).

At first I thought it was the girlfriend who grabbed and ran up the debt, but alas, when cleaning out the house, I found a receipt for the rental of a drain snake from A-Tool Shed using the Discover card, and signed by my step brother. Yep, he left a piece of evidence in the debris of his departure from the house. One of my trips to the police station was to amend the main incident report with his name, and copies of this evidence (Discover statement, and receipt tied to him.)

I spent so much time on hold and calling credit card companies, that I am now the master of navigating the IVR systems.

The rest of the estate

There were 10 heirs, 8 direct, and 2 who were children of the deceased stepbrother. Of these 9 other people (besides myself) 8 were no problem to deal with, who were happy to not have to muck around. It was the stepbrother that complicated everything, and made it imperative that I follow every rule of the law. This slowed down the disbursement process, as my attorney advised ensuring that all parties properly sign off on the documentation for the disbursement.

Finally, in July, this was complete, not without some bullshit from my stepbrother (his drug use and propensity for buying conspiracy theories are a big contributor to this behavior). Just because he would use the position of trustee to clean out the accounts and line his pockets, doesn’t mean I would.

The house was originally bought in 1974 for the princely sum of $40,000. It sold in 2019 for $1,810,000. The nearly $100K spent on renovations and repairs easily added $350K to the price that we received. I feel like I have discharged my duties as executor and trustee well.

The final task will be to get the taxes filed, and then split the $30K holdback to the heirs.

My father

While I was dealing with the estate of my stepfather, my own father’s health is declining. I got out three times to San Diego to visit, first for his 86th birthday, second for a trade show for work, and the third time for Thanksgiving.

His decline is very visible in progress between these three trips. He is becoming less able to speak and form thoughts, and his ability to mobilize is also degrading. Alas, I fear that the end is coming sooner rather than later, and I am hoping that my stepmother will begin to prepare for assisted living for him, in a place with memory care.

Very sad.

Work

Work has been, well, work. I started the year with 2 full time jobs (the responsibilities of two product lines, not two different jobs) that rose to 3.5 full time jobs. Now it is back to 2.5 full time jobs. Not great, but what can you do.

I am nearing the burnout point, and seeking an escape. Not in a rush, but I am not in a sustainable position at present.

At least I got a pretty hefty raise, and I now make almost as much as I did in 2008 before the global financial crisis. The downside: in 2008 I was living in a low cost area, and now I am in Silicon Valley. Oh well, at least I am not foraging in the homeless encampment on Guadalupe Creek.

Health

Health remains good. Blood pressure, cholesterol are all excellent, largely due to the pharmaceutical industry, but that is largely genetic (thanks Mom!)

My feet suffer, I have had 3 major flareups of the gout this year.

I have begun cycling more, and with my bonus bought a new bicycle, a “hybrid” Trek FX Sport 6 that improves my comfort. My old, fat body no longer was compatible with the cramped drop bar style.

I do need to lose weight. The stress of work, and of the estate this year was not good for my long term goals of nutrition and weight management. I won’t promise that 2020 will be significantly better, but I will try.

In Summary

2019 was not the best year. The estate consumed me, and really cranked the stress level to 11. Couple that with an exponential increase of responsibilities and demands from work, and the result was too much stress, and too little meaningful personal development.

In 2020 my goals are:

  • Get healthier. Eat better, cook more often. Exercise regularly.
  • Write more. Looking back at my posts for the year is sobering, I wrote almost no posts for my personal or professional blogs. No excuses.
  • Reduce the work stress. I really need to shed one of my portfolios, as I do not have enough time to do it even a minimum of justice.

Let’s see what my 2020 reflections post will have to say about that!

Product Manager in Tech. Guitar player. Bicycle Rider. Dog rescuer. Techie.