Thursday, January 26, 2012

Gift to my Sister -- And Family Psychopathology

My Uncle Izzy (Isidore) Freedman, one of my father's older brothers, died in the early 1970s.  I was a college student at the time.  Uncle Izzy was a bachelor who lived his entire adult life with an older sister, Ella Freedman Klein and her family.  He worked for RCA in Camden, New Jersey.  He had a factory job, but amassed a small fortune of about $60,000 in savings.   He left a will bequeathing his entire estate to Aunt Ella.  My father was infuriated; he believed that his brother, who wrote a will during his final illness (he had diabetes his entire adult life), was the victim of undue influence by his older sister.  He accused his older sister, my Aunt Ella, of greed: of wanting to take the entire estate, when, no doubt -- at least according to my father -- his older brother, Izzy, would have wanted all his siblings to share equally.

My sister's husband talked to a friend, a lawyer, about the family situation.  The lawyer recommended that my father and his siblings hire a lawyer to challenge Isidore Freedman's will.  According to the lawyer, my father could make a creditable case of undue influence, invalidating the will, and allowing Uncle Izzy's estate to pass equally to the surviving brothers and sisters.  (My father had six siblings).  The lawyer recommended a colleague, Martin Herring, Esq.  My father proceeded to corral his brothers and sisters into agreeing to hire Martin Herring to contest the will, at the urging of my brother-in-law.  And thus a will contest was had.  In the end, Ella Klein settled, agreeing to pay about $1,000 to each of her siblings and keeping the remainder of Uncle Izzy's estate.

Thus, in my brother-in-law's narrative an older sister used undue influence to induce her younger, infirm brother to hand over his estate to her.

Be that as it may.

In January 1980 my mother died.  I was the sole beneficiary of my mother's employer-sponsored life insurance policy in the amount of about $18,500.  I was in law school at the time, living alone on personal savings.  My sister knew I suffered from mental illness. In fact, in November 1977, after my suicide attempt, my brother-in-law talked to his friend, the lawyer, about suing my psychiatrist for malpractice, accusing him of substandard care leading to my suicide attempt.  The lawyer told my brother-in-law that alleging psychiatrist malpractice in a case of suicide or attempted suicide was exceedingly difficult to prove.  But the lawyer recommended that I see a psychiatrist, I.J. Oberman, D.O., a forensic psychiatrist who was a professional colleague of the lawyer friend; the friend happened to be a mental health master for the Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas.  About the severity of my mental condition, the lawyer friend told my brother-in-law that suicide was "an inherently psychotic act."  I ended up embarking on treatment with Dr. Oberman.  I saw him from June 1978 till early 1979.  I entered law school in August 1979.  Thus, both my sister and brother-in-law were well aware of my psychiatric problems as of 1977.  Incidentally, when I stopped working in June 1979 -- prior to my law school enrollment -- I lost my employer-sponsored medical insurance.

What did my sister and brother-in-law know as of January 1980, at the time of my mother's death?

1.  They knew I had a history of severe mental illness that included a psychotic episode.

2.  They knew I had no medical insurance that would allow me to obtain psychiatric treatment.

3.  They knew that my mother, while she was alive, was concerned about my ability to take care of myself -- the primary motive in her decision to make me the sole beneficiary of her life insurance.  (My mother had named me sole beneficiary in mid-1969, when I was 15 years old.  My sister and brother-in-law had gotten married in early May 1969; thus, my sister was an emancipated adult at the time my mother made me beneficiary of her life insurance.)

Despite this knowledge, my sister and brother-in-law seemed to have a sense of entitlement about the life insurance.  A brief time after my mother died, I telephoned an employee at my mother's place of employment, Lorraine Dobransky, to advise her of my address so that the insurance payment would be sent directly to me in Spokane, Washington, where I was living at the time.   Lorraine Dobransky seemed surprised by my call.  She said: "I just got a call from your sister.  She said she wanted the check sent to her as administrator of your mother's estate."  Note that insurance proceeds do not come within the purview of an estate administrator.  Insurance proceeds fall outside the jurisdiction of a deceased's estate.  I told Lorraine Dobransky: "Please send the insurance check to me, not my sister."

As the months passed, my brother-in-law said to me, "Did you get the check yet?"  What business was that of my brother-in-law?  Note that sense of entitlement is a symptom of a narcissistic personality disorder (as is interpersonal exploitation).  On another occasion, my brother-in-law said to me, "I was talking to Steve Frankel (a friend of my brother-in-law in the insurance business), and Steve said that you are entitled to interest on the insurance proceeds from the date of your mother's death."  I suspect -- I don't know -- but I suspect that my brother-in-law had asked Steve Frankel if there was some way to compel me to share the insurance proceeds equally with my sister.  Remember the case of Ella Klein and Izzy Freedman, above?

In the end, generous and selfless person that I am, I shared my mother's life insurance proceeds with my sister.  Incidentally, one of the symptoms of schizoid personality disorder is that the schizoid is,"at times, altruistically self-sacrificing."  Yes, I am a generous person.  It's part of my psychopathology!

I still have the receipt for the check I sent to my sister (which she proceeded to hand over, in full, to her husband -- who worked as a Camden County elementary school teacher despite the fact he had a business degree).

Thus, my brother-in-law had an older sister use undue influence to induce her younger, infirm brother to hand over his insurance proceeds to her.





No comments: