Amanda Kovattana

Middle-aged musings in interesting times

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

My Day In Court

With the passing of my aunt and my appearance at her cremation in July I found that I had a new status in my Thai family. It actually surprised me that I had any status in this family at all given that I had been an outsider for so long and had written a book that had revealed a few too many family secrets (which I then felt I had to keep secret from the family).

Only months before her death my Aunty Ah Pahdt had contacted me via her son writing to me on Facebook messenger. Now that she was 76 she was worried about the matter of property being properly transferred to the heirs — the heirs of my father's will which included my stepmother, the two children of my aunt and me. Ah Pahdt and my stepmother who was also Thai had met with a lawyer who advised them to ask me to act as executor for my grandmother's will. My father having not quite finished all the details pertaining to his mother’s will in particular the transfer to his name of the land upon which my Ah Pahdt's house was built. That parcel needed to be transferred before my father’s will could be implemented and the new owners instated.

My father had specified in his will that the land not be sold and that my grandmother's house was to be left standing. I was beginning to understand why he had specified the no selling part. So many people lived on this land, most of them not related by blood—12 by my count. He too must have wanted them to continue to have a home. And by putting 4 people as the owners he had pretty much insured that we would never agree on anything let alone on selling it. 

Now that I was being asked to be my grandmother’s executor I felt this was a role I had been waiting all my life to step into. She had been proud of me as her only granddaughter and had groomed me to follow in her footsteps. There was no denying that I was her only blood relative which made me the rightful heir to the entire estate in the eyes of the staff for they respected my grandmother deeply for her many kindnesses and charitable work.

My grandmother had told me how she had intended to divide up the land so my Ah Padt would have the parcel her house was built upon, my father the adjoining parcel and me the final third. But my father thought he knew better how to manage the succession and he had persuaded her to leave all the land to him. Why he hadn’t transferred the one property that had now come to me to transfer was unclear. 

A Court Date

To accept my role as executor I had to show up in court 3 months later in November to get the proper legal document.

First I had to answer questions the lawyer would pose to me to explain my story. This had to be done in Thai for a translator was not permitted. The script was so filled with unfamiliar formal words I began to panic and told my boy cousin I didn't understand 80% of it. He put in a call to his sister and she came to coach me herself. I carefully wrote down the answers in words I could understand. At the end of our session she said I should also wear a dress to pay proper respect to the court. 

"A dress," I exclaimed, "no one told me about that part. You'll have to provide one." Luckily she was the same size as me so on our court day she brought me two outfits, both in stylish black and white from the recent year of mourning for the death of the King. I chose the dress over the jacket and skirt and she borrowed some shoes from her sister-in-law for me to wear. Thus transformed we met with the lawyer, a young man who sat with me in the atrium of the court house to rehearse our script. 

I was interested to note that adorning the wall of the courthouse there was no picture of the King either old or new. There was only a picture of the Buddha with hand raised to quell fear. I took comfort in this. Then the lawyer told me that I had to do this without notes for I could not take anything with me into the witness box. Another deep breath as I took this in. We would manage somehow. 

This particular court was devoted to matters of family inheritance and was presided over by a rather beautiful woman judge. To pass the time I found myself fantasizing about running into her at a lesbian bar and chatting her up. But soon it was my turn to enter the witness stand where I swore to tell the truth or face dire consequences to me and my entire household. I stumbled through the series of questions reeling off the memorized names, dates of death and cause of death of my grandmother (by heart attack). 

"Then what happened," the lawyer asked. 

"Then my father died," I said. When we rehearsed this it sounded somehow so unlikely and careless for him to die so soon after his mother that it made my girl cousin and me laugh. I gave the date and the part about how one parcel of the land was still in my grandmother's name.

The lawyer asked me another question and somehow I didn't understand it. I closed my eyes and thought I was going to loose it so I just said the only thing left to say.

"And so they said I should be the executor," I said. The lawyer nodded relieved. The judge repeated the names and details of our story and granted me the paper naming me executor. I was exhausted by the ordeal which had so taxed my brain it felt as if all the English had been sucked out of it. I couldn’t put two sentences together for a week after. But it was done. There remained only the transfer of the land to the new owners which would take yet another trip.

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