by Jim Foreman
A cold north wind drove the light snow in horizontal streaks, whipping it around Rebecca Crenshaw's legs as she stood with her two sons, Nelson and Jason. They watched in silence as the coffin containing the body of T. Clayton Crenshaw was lowered into the frozen earth. The two sons had flown to Chicago to attend their father's funeral. Nelson now lived in Los Angeles and Jason was attending Harvard Law School, where three generations of attorneys before him had graduated.
T. Clayton Crenshaw was only forty-two years of age when he dropped dead of a heart attack, suffered while trying to dig his stranded Mercedes out of a snow bank. When the coffin reached the bottom of the grave, Rebecca dropped a single rose on it. As she and her sons turned to leave the cemetery, they were joined by Abraham Goldblat and J. Henry Potter, the remaining two members of the prestigious Chicago law firm of Crenshaw, Goldblat and Potter. Potter spoke, "Rebecca, we have been law partners with your husband for fifteen years and loved him like a brother. I know that Clayton left you well provided for, but it will take a few weeks to get his will through probate. If you need any money or anything else in the meantime, be sure to give the office a call. Also, we had a special arrangement between the three of us concerning the partnership in the event that any one of us should die. When you feel like it, come by the office and we will explain it all to you."
"Thanks, Henry," replied Rebecca. "I appreciate that and will see you after things get settled down."
Two weeks later, Rebecca parked her Cadillac in her late husband's private parking spot and took the elevator to the 17th floor where his offices were located. She was ushered into the plush conference room and seated at the head of the table; the place which had always been occupied by her husband, as president of the firm, prior to his death. Goldblat was seated at one side of the long table and Potter on the other. Two secretaries and a Notary Public were also present.
Henry Potter spoke, "I'm glad that you could come in, Rebecca. I assume that you have no objections, so I will turn the video camera on to record this meeting." Without waiting for a reply, Henry pressed a small button and the red light on a video camera mounted in a book case at the end of the room blinked on.
The meeting had taken on a much more formal atmosphere than what Rebecca had expected, but she said nothing. Goldblat spoke first, "Mrs. Crenshaw, this is a legal meeting of the board of directors for the Law Firm of Crenshaw, Goldblat and Potter; as incorporated under the laws of the State of Illinois. The meeting is being video tape recorded and Miss Roberts will take minutes. Do you have any questions before we begin?"
"None that I can think of," replied Rebecca. "But I don't understand what this is about."
"I assure you that you will know in due time," replied Potter as he opened a large file folder which lay on the table in front of him. "Five years ago, we foresaw the possibility that something like your husband's death might happen to one of the partners and took steps to protect the remaining members of the firm. We established a value of three million dollars for the firm and bought a life insurance policy in the sum of two million dollars to cover each of us individually. One million would be paid to the deceased partner's heirs for his interest in the firm and the other million would go directly to the firm to offset the loss of his services."
"Do you mean to tell me that my husband had a two million dollar life insurance policy and didn't tell me anything about it?" asked Rebecca. "I thought the only one he had was for $250,000 and I received the check for it today."
"I don't know why he chose not to tell you about it, but such a policy was in effect at the time of his death," replied Potter, picking up a cashier's check from the stack of papers. "I have your check here and all that you have to do is sign these papers in which you release all interests and rights which you might have in the firm." He pushed a legal document, containing several pages and bound in a blue cover, across the table to her. "Please read it and we will explain any parts which you do not understand. If you wish to seek the advice of outside council, you may do so before signing. You might also be interested to know that this was your husband's idea and he drew up the agreement."
When she had finished reading the agreement which, unlike most legal documents was simple and to the point, she picked up the gold fountain pen which lay on the table and signed it. Goldblat handed the folder to the Notary Public who dated, signed and applied his seal below her signature.
Potter handed the check for one million dollars to her and said with a smile, "Don't spend it all in one place."
Goldblat spoke up, "We plan to retain your husband's name as a part of the firm name, since that is the way in which it was incorporated. I hope that is agreeable with you."
"Yes, of course," replied Rebecca. "In fact, I would consider it to be an honor to him."
"The firm will handle the probate of the will for you pro bono and will provide you with free legal services should you ever need them," said Goldblat, "And my first free legal advice to you is to see my brother, Adam Goldblat, who is one of the best financial advisors in Chicago. His offices are in this same building and he also took care of your husband's financial affairs before he died."
Not since the days when she and her husband were first married and both attending college had she ever felt a need for money, but to actually hold a check for a million dollars in her hand was awesome. She pushed the elevator button for the 8th floor, where Adam Goldblat had his offices.
"Good morning, Mrs. Crenshaw," said the secretary, as she entered the office. "Mr. Goldblat is expecting you, please follow me."
Rebecca sat in front of his desk, clutching the million dollar check in her hands. It had all been so sudden. One minute she was handed a check for a million dollars and the next minute she would be handing it over to someone whom she had never met before. Her husband had always taken care of all financial dealings, leaving her free to plan pool parties, bridge games and European vacations.
Adam spoke, "Mrs. Crenshaw, that million dollars is an insurance settlement and therefore is not subject to income taxes; however, under the new tax laws, almost any money which it produces will be taxed as earned income. I took care of your late husband's financial affairs, so I know that you aren't going to have any financial problems once his will is probated. I understand that you have also received the proceeds from a personal policy he had with you as the beneficiary"
"Your primary interest in this money will be safe, long term growth rather than producing the highest immediate cash returns. I suggest that some seventy-five percent of these funds be placed in tax-exempt government bonds and the remainder split equally between higher yielding growth funds and blue-chip stocks."
"I have drawn up this proposal for your investment program, based on your needs, but I do want you to read and understand it completely before making any decisions. You might also want to let your husband's partners see what they think of it. In the meantime, I would suggest that we put that million dollar check, which you are clutching so tightly in your hand, into a daily interest account in the bank downstairs where it will begin earning around two hundred dollars each day. I'm a firm believer that one should never waste a single day when their money could be working for them. This account will have it earning interest while giving you time to study my proposal before making up your mind."
"Since my husband trusted your judgment, I'm sure you know what's best for me, so I'll take your advice," replied Rebecca.
"Good, and if we can get the check deposited before the computers close, it will begin earning interest today."
Rebecca endorsed the check and handed it to him, because anyone who is as interested in a two hundred dollars as he is in a million must have something on the ball.
"One other thing, Mrs. Crenshaw," he continued. "If I were you, living alone in that big house out there in the country, I'd consider selling it and buying a nice apartment in one of those new high-rises along the lake.
"But that's my home," Rebecca protested. "All of my friends live in that area and I enjoy socializing with them."
I'm afraid that you are in for a lot of heartaches if you continue to live there," said Adam. "The people who you consider to be your friends will have a much different attitude now that your husband is no longer living. You are now a very wealthy, young and attractive widow, and whether you intend it to be that way or not, you will be viewed as a threat to every married woman you know."
"It's difficult for me to believe that would ever happen."
"Let me ask you one question. Even though your husband has been dead for only two weeks, how many invitations have you had to social events?"
"Come to think of it, none," replied Rebecca. "But I had supposed that most of them felt that it was too soon to have me to dinner or a party."
"At least give some consideration to my suggestion. Living in an apartment has much to offer, such as security and elimination of the need to keep a gardener and pool man each summer; besides, you are still a young woman and need to be here in the city where the action is.