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By Bradley J. FrigonĀ 

We are glad when we can make a positive difference in the lives of our clients and help them reach a successful conclusion. A recent note from a valued client tells us the rest of the story and says, "Thanks for making a difference."

Our client's father had remarried after the death of his first wife. After the father remarried, he changed his will to leave his house in trust for the benefit of his new wife, who we will call Marcy. The terms of the will provided that Marcy could live in the house for her life or as long as she occupied the home as her principal residence. Marcy was named as the trustee and the executor of the will. The house was to eventually pass back to the children upon Marcy's death or if she no longer occupied the home as her principal residence.

Marcy eventually developed compulsive hoarding, thought to be a subset of obsessive compulsive disorder. After our client's father passed away, the children wanted to retrieve family photos and other personal items. While Marcy never really questioned our client's entitlement to those objects, she refused to let the children in the house to collect their father's personal items.

As time went on, Marcy's hoarding eventually reduced her home to greater and greater squalor. She became isolated and would not let anyone in the house. Finally, a neighbor purchased the home when Marcy, due to health problems, had to move out of the house. After the neighbor purchased the home, our clients were allowed inside the home to search for any remaining family heirlooms. Our clients shared this letter with our office.

March 30, 2009

Dear Eric,

I wanted to send thanks for all the work you did for me and my siblings. I thought you might like to know how the story ends.

On Tuesday, February 10, my husband and I and my brother met the new owner (who was also the neighbor) at Dad's old house. Marcy had left town the Saturday before. The conditions inside the house were much worse than any of us could have imagined. It was like walking through a landfill. There was garbage, trash and debris, along with brand-new merchandise which had been thrown on the pile. The piles ranged from one to five feet in depth. There was no access to the toilet or running water, as every surface was buried with stuff. The smell was horrific. Two refrigerators and one freezer were stuffed with rotting food and dead maggots. It took two days to work through it and to retrieve our family things, and much of what we had asked for was gone. We wore masks and gloves, and it still took a few days to get back to normal with our respiratory systems.

The new owner couldn't have been nicer. She helped us shovel paths to different rooms and gave us total freedom to take what we wanted. We recovered a lot, and most precious are the photographs and the letters my parents wrote to each other during World War II. There were letters to my mother from a woman in Wales from 1944 to 1952, and I have located her with the help of the Internet. She is in her 80's, still in Swansea, Wales, and she and I will be corresponding. What a gift!

Dad's house is now gone. The new owner had hazardous things removed, then a backhoe took care of the rest. She is now in the process of establishing a beautiful garden and has invited us to visit once she is done. When I went by last week and sat in my car looking, I found that a smile had formed on my face, and I breathed a sigh of relief. It's finally over. "Ding-dong, the witch is dead." I'm sending you a few photos so that you can see the "before." Maybe you can drop by and see the "after" later this spring!

Best regards to you and Brad.

As our client had the misfortune of learning the hard way, compulsive hoarding is not just a desire to hold on to things. It is a syndrome that can be present with several different psychological disorders. It can lead to isolation and can be physically dangerous, particularly in elderly adults.

Our client's problem was compounded by the fact that the father's will was poorly written. The children had limited recourse to remove Marcy as trustee and there was no means for the children to force Marcy to repair and maintain the home. Because of the way the father's estate plan was set up, the children had to choose between spending money to fight Marcy and the illness she was suffering from or risk their childhood mementos being destroyed.

Estate planning considerations with second marriages can be very tricky, and a poorly written will can end up costing a family thousands of dollars in unnecessary legal bills or placing family members in more complicated and difficult relationships than are necessary.

For more information about compulsive hoarding, please visit the Obsessive Compulsive Foundation at http://www.ocfoundation.org/hoarding/about-hoarding.php or Children of Hoarders at http://www.childrenofhoarders.com/Pages_Understanding_Tmt.php.

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