Interview with Dave Buckwald of the
Yachats Wastewater Plant
TYG: What is your position in the plant?
Dave: I’m the wastewater plant operator.
TYG: What position is that in the chain?
Dave: In the chain of Public Works? Technically I think it’s called the Wastewater Systems Operator. So that means I also take care of the collection system that feeds here.
TYG: So you’re basically the … What would it be called on a construction site?
Dave: You might say it’s like a foreman.
TYG: Foreman! Yes, that’s what I was thinking.
Dave: But I’m the head wastewater operator—I’m certified, and the designated certified operator for this plant.
TYG-Graphic Design: So it requires certification? By whom?
Dave: Yes, by the Department of Environmental Quality—DEQ. We’re a very highly regulated outfit, by the State and also by the EPA, Environmental Protection Agency.
TYG: What is the history of this plant? Not just the new one with all the gadgets, but also the old one.
Dave: Well, I’ve been here for eight years in June. So from what I know, there’s a picture over at City Hall—right when you come into the City Hall office, and there’s a bench—if you look right behind you, there’s a picture that says 1969, and you can’t see the sewer plant. There was nothing here. And today we were just looking—myself and a couple other guys, we had a meeting over there—and we were looking at that and trying to figure out what they did, prior to 1969. In 1972 and ’74, the Clean Water Acts were in [place], and that’s when everything started popping up. A little bit after that, there are other pictures you can see where the old plant was just this doughnut ring out here [gestures], which I’ll show you when we go on tour. That was the entire plant. Then in 1992, we added another tank, which is called the clarifier.
|Original sewer tank|
TYG: Even the office wasn’t here?
Dave: Yes. There used to be—you know what a carport looks like?—except it went all the way down, the full length here of the pavement, and they had what’s called drying beds in there, and that’s where they could store their equipment, and there was just the first part of the building over there. And that one tank—but that one has five [inner tanks], so it did a bunch of other stuff.
TYG-GD: Do you think the sewer just went directly into the bay before that?
Dave: Perhaps—I have no idea. We were wondering… if you take a look at that picture, you can see the church, but you don’t see anything else. Then the plant kind of became overloaded, just became too small, not able to handle everything. Then in 2009, they completed this plan.
TYG-GD: So, what was the population load for the first plant, when it needed to be changed?
Dave: I’m not sure! Like I said, when I came in 2006 they were still in the process of putting things together, the final touches of planning for the new plant. I’m not quite familiar with the past part. I know now though that we have about 815 [water] services. That’s how we count things: every water service generally has sewer stuff.
TYG: So is that one per house?
Dave: Per household, probably. But the Adobe, for example, has just one meter, but that’s a whole bunch.
TYG: That’s going to be huge! I’m wondering if there’s a tank, or a section of a tank out there, that’s just for hotels and big facilities?
Dave: Well, we kind of measure things by flow, what comes in each day. That’s part of our regulations: we have to keep track of how much comes in, how much goes out, what we do with all of it. I have this chart right here that shows each day what comes in for the day. We have two meters upstairs. So, we had roughly 153,000 gallons come in yesterday, in one 24-hour period up until 6 o’clock this morning.
TYG: Wow, that’s incredible!
Dave: Well, what’s really incredible is when it rains, that number goes up to 500-600,000. That’s why you see in the local newsletter stuff about I & I, inflow and infiltration.
TYG-GD: Ah. We’re outside the city limits, so we don’t get the newsletter.
Dave: But you should know, because you pay the [food] tax! […] The point, with the I & I, is that we have to treat all that. That’s a lot of water, lot of energy… Sewer plants don’t make money.
TYG-GD: So all the rainwater comes off the hill, and down into the plant?
Dave: Well, inflow could be illegal connections—someone might build a house and put their gutter pipe up to their sewer system. Or sewer pipes—sometimes they get cracked, and ground water can come in.
TYG-GD: What about all the water that’s in the gutters, in the streets?
Dave: That goes to storm drains, but sometimes if we have a sewer line that’s a lateral, and it’s cracked, then the water can get in. Sometimes we have manhole lids that get underwater—there are two big holes on that.
TYG: I see! So, where does everything go after your plant?
Dave: It goes out to the ocean. I’m going to show you the process. When we send it out, we test it on a regular basis for pathogens, and the amount of solids that are still in it—total solids. That’s what we’re regulated to do—we can only let a certain amount in. If we let more than that, then we get in trouble with the DEQ: violations, fines—it would be my job!
TYG-GD: What do you test for? You said pathogens—but do you test for antibiotics, or anything else?
Dave: No, no, we don’t test for that kind of stuff. It’s a very expensive test and it’s hard to test for. It’s not really something that we’re required to test for. But we do test for total suspended solids (TSS). We filter through a glass filter, these kind of things right here [they actually look like miniature pie plates with a coffee filter lid, and they’re arranged on shelves in a small glass case with gravel along the bottom]. Those have micron holes in them, so they catch everything.
TYG: What’s this here, the gravel?
Dave: That gravel is dessicant—it keeps everything bone dry. The slightest bit of humidity in there will cause a change in the weight of the dish—it’s part of the testing. The blue [gravel] will turn pink when it’s no longer doing its job. We also test for something called BOD (biochemical oxygen demand). It’s referred to as food for the bugs—bacteria, protozoans, stuff like that. If we were to send out too much of it it would cause algae blooms. Too much algae sucks up oxygen in the water, kills the fish and crabs, and that would be my job too. [laughter] We always try to keep everything as clean as possible.
Now, those same tests that we do on the stuff going out, we also do on the stuff coming in. So we can show the efficiency.
TYG-GD: So, how is the efficiency of this plant?
Dave: We run generally 94-99% efficient on removal. [TYG exclaims] I’m going to show you something here in just a second, but also we have UV (ultraviolet) disinfection. That’s a step where the light shoots in on any of those pathogens—we test for enterococcus and fecal coliforms. Those all comes from warm-blooded… [searches for polite word] intestines. [laughter] What happens is that the UV hits it, breaks up the DNA, and then it dies within 24 hours.
TYG-GD: So, speaking of 24 hours, how long does a drop of sewer water stay in the plant?
Dave: It depends on the flow! I can give you an example: We have decanters up there [in our tanks], and when they come down, they take the clear stuff off the top. And when the arm is at its lowest point [at the very bottom of the clear top liquid], that’s called the bottom working level. Any other time you have water coming in constantly—it works on a 4 hour process. So the bottom working level is 226,000 gallons in each tank, so that’s 452,000 gallons total. So if we have 100,000 gallons coming in, it would take 4 days. In the summertime it can take forever, because we only have 70,000 gallons coming in.
|Upstairs aerating tank. At the far end (not pictured) are the "arms" |
that fold down and drain off the clear top liquid
when it's finished aerating. The whole thing smells like detergent soap.
TYG-GD: So what comes in pushes the other stuff out.
Dave: Yes, it’s a hydraulic flow. A gallon in will eventually be a gallon out.
So let me show you something here. [Dave takes us over to the counter where we see several beakers with liquid and particulate matter, some in suspension, some precipitated out.]
TYG: So, what is that? Bodily waste?
Dave: You could call it that. [laughter]
TYG: I don’t want to use the “p” word.
Dave: [laughter] I don’t buy that idea, that it’s poo. If someone in town… Even here! If we were to flush the toilet, whatever got flushed would go down the collection system into the pipes, and most of it is gravity-fed to a pump station. And then it’s pumped somewhere in town, and it all ends up at our main pumping station on the corner of Marine and Oceanview. […] Everything in town comes to that point. And from there, it gets pumped up and into here. And these pumps are pretty efficient, and they grind and bust everything up. So there’s none of that poo—you won’t see a single piece of poo up there.
TYG: So this, for example [points to a beaker]—where did you get that from?
Dave: Well, let me go through it with you. This is the raw sewage, right here. It comes in and gets screened, and all the screenings get taken off. Then it goes into our aeration basins, which you’ll see when we go up there. One of them will be settling, like this [shows a beaker with mud on the bottom and clearish water on top], and the other will be bubbling [shows a beaker with everything mixed up]. And all that brown stuff that you see is microorganisms.
|Beakers with various stages of wastewater|
TYG: Oh! That’s not actually bodily waste?
Dave: No, it’s bacteria!
TYG: [We look in the microscope at a sample on a slide, and see a bacterium foraging.]
Dave: We have a few things in there called “water bears.” Now water bears, they’ve taken out into space. [He shows us his chart on the wall with various bacteria, and we identify a crawling ciliate. The chart also shows where in the process the water is, depending on what bacteria are present.] Well, sometimes you can see a water bear, and they have six legs, with claws. The water bears munch on those tulip-looking things. […] So that’s what all the brown stuff is. It’s not poo, no matter what people tell you!
So it’s all getting mixed around, it’s aerating, because we can only control the conditions in which they’re eating, like the air, and how many bugs. That’s basically all we can control on it. So if you get too many bugs, it’s like when you invite too many people to Thanksgiving [dinner]. People are going to go hungry. Right? And if you invite not enough, there’s all this excess food, and that goes in the fridge. And if we have too much food left over, it goes out with the clear stuff, and that raises numbers. If there’s not enough food, then bugs start dying off, and they’ll float out, which makes water kind of turbid, a bit cloudy, and that raises up your numbers too. So you have to keep it right in that certain area. So while one’s bubbling, and one’s settling, we’ll pump some of that out to control how many bacteria are in the tank.
TYG-GD: So do you add bacteria?
Dave: No. It’s all what’s coming in upstairs, and what I’m growing. […] So when I pump some of that out, it looks like this [more brown goop], and that goes over to these other tanks, called our digesters. And they do just that: they digest each other. These guys are starving, because we don’t feed them. So when the bugs get too old, or break apart—well, inside their cells are chemicals and stuff that other bugs can eat. So they eat each other up! It’s called a “volatile reduction.” And when it’s all done, we have to meet certain regulations on that too [on the leftover particulate matter]: how many pathogens are left in it; something known as “vector attraction”—stuff like spiders, bugs, birds, rats. If we let this stuff set out for a while, for example, is it going to attract a bunch of flies. So the EPA and DEQ regulate us, so that we have to reach a 38% reduction in it through aerobic digestion.
TYG: What’s this? [Points at a lump of dark brown matter in the last beaker]
Dave: Well, once [the leftover particulate matter] meets these rules, then we run it through the screw press and remove the water. We add a chemical to it—it’s like a polymer—and this is what’s left. This either goes to the landfill, or other places. We just loaded our dump truck, and we’re hauling it to Roseburg tomorrow.
TYG-GD: What do you do with it in Roseburg?
Dave: Well, we pay a company there that takes it. They land-apply it; they reconstitute it into this, turn it into water again, and then he treats it some more, and he puts it on his fields.
TYG-GD: Huh. So, what is the composition of the hard stuff?
Dave: Mainly it’s just dead bacteria.
TYG: So it’s not actually that gross!
Dave: No! You can smell it—it smells like dirt. [laughs] We got in trouble with Dahl [the local garbage company] about that. Normally we’ll put it in garbage cans, and they take some of it during the week, [but] they thought we were putting dirt in their garbage cans. So they wouldn’t pick it up! We had to have the owner come and look. Would you like to take a smell?
TYG: Sure! [We bravely sniff] Oh, it’s a perfectly good earthy smell!
Dave: In our industry, it’s called a non-offensive earthy smell. There’s nothing poo about this! […] Once that part’s done, we decant—maybe you’ll see the arms coming down—and it drains off the top […] and goes out into the ocean. It gets treated with UV, and goes to our out-fall, just on the end of 6th Street—you’ll see a concrete line, and it goes out there about 300 feet.
TYG: Let’s go see!
Dave: Let me wash my hands first!
[We take a very interesting guided tour of everything, and come back to the office for one last question.]
TYG: How did you get into [this business]?
Dave: I worked in a saw mill for 20 years—I went to work there right out of high school. When I was 23, there was a job open in the City of Newport for a wastewater treatment. I just wanted out of the mill, so I went up there, and they said “You need to be certified.” And I said, “That’s for the birds!” So I went back to the mill and kept on working. And then, I had a friend working for the City of Florence, who took me in and showed me this exact same type of sample [the dirt-looking stuff]—and I couldn’t believe it! I always thought you flushed the toilet and… it’s gone! [laughter] I don’t know—I don’t care! But when he showed me that, I was just amazed. So, as soon as I could—well, when the saw mill shut down—I was 38 years old, and I went right to Linn-Benton in Albany and I took a two year associate’s degree in wastewater treatment! [laughs] I wanted to get a job out in the Valley, like with Eugene or Salem or something—you know, you get a degree, and you start thinking you’re a big smart guy. We lived in Mapleton, and my wife said, “First, try the coast.” I stopped at Waldport; they said they weren’t [looking for anybody], but they thought Yachats might be. So I stopped at Yachats, put in an application, and after that it’s been bliss ever since! [laughter]
TYG-GD: So do you guys live here in town?
Dave: Yes! I actually commuted back and forth for six years [from Mapleton] and I stayed up in Waldport when I was on call—we have weekly on call [duties]. And now we have a place just down by the 10 Mile area. And yes, it’s just fabulous. But you know, truly, I would encourage everyone to get into this. […] There’s always a need for wastewater! There are always people flushing… and remember! Put your grease in a can! [laughter]
TYG: Thank you so much!
Holly Anne Gibbons, Atty.TYG: What is estate planning?
Holly: Estate planning is what we do when we determine where our assets are going to go after we die, or become incapacitated. So that might be like, for example, if you were in a car accident and in a coma for six months. Who’s going to pay your bills? Who’s going to pay your taxes? Who’s going to work with your doctor to determine what kind of medications you’re going to take? Where you’re going to live, what kind of healthcare you’re going to need: there are different avenues to plan for all of those things.
TYG: I see! Where did you get the idea to study this area of law, and not, say, court law?
Holly: Like litigation, like the stuff you see on TV? [laughs]
TYG: We don’t have TV, so we wouldn’t know that.
Holly: Right! Actually, I like this area of law because for one, there’s not a lot of fighting, and I’m not drawn to fighting. I don’t like to go and do that in a courtroom—that doesn’t appeal to me at all. There’s a lot of counseling in this area, and that makes me really happy. I enjoy working one on one with people, getting to know them; I feel I’m very connected to a lot of people in our community and I’ve made a lot of friends through what I do, and that just gives me a lot of joy. And there’s also the drafting piece of it: I love to write. My undergrad was in English, my minor was in Psychology before I went to law school, so that all just kind of fits really well. It’s really fun! I love my job. I meet cool people, I get to spend lots of time talking with them, I get to do complicated drafting things and be creative and figure out puzzles about how to get people’s needs met in the best way possible.
So here’s what I really do: People come in here usually a little anxious, like “Ugh, I don’t want to think about dying, I don’t want to think about this kind of thing.” And they come in here looking like this: shoulders are kind of up and arms are kind of a little crossed; people come in a little stressed and anxious, and then by the time we do everything and they sign the paperwork and let it go, their shoulders drop, they’re smiling, they kind of open up, and that’s the best part of my job, watching people just let it go and move forward. And they always say: “This wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it was going to be!” [laughs] That’s the best compliment.
TYG: Where did you get the idea to open this business here? Because there aren’t too many people around here. Why not Portland?
Holly: […] I’m going to go back to why I first went to law school, because it ties in. I graduated from my undergrad. I lived in Colorado. I was going to be a teacher and teach high school English. At the last minute I kind of freaked out: “Ugh! I don’t think that’s what I really want; I don’t feel like I can make enough of a difference with the big classroom sizes!” I got really nervous and decided that wasn’t what I wanted to do anymore. So I stayed up, and had all this insomnia for two weeks. I stayed up scouring the internet for ideas of what life-track I might want to take, and I stumbled on a website for somebody who practiced something called “animal law.” Animal law! What is that? I got really excited about it, and started learning about it just on Google, figuring out what it was, and I got very excited about the possibility. I’d never considered law, ever. And I got really tickled about it! So I started looking around, and it turns out that the best animal law school in the world is at Lewis and Clark, in Portland. So I started looking at schools. I was really late in the game to be applying; they’d already accepted most of what they were doing […]. I was looking at Virginia, at Utah, here in Oregon, and I decided that this was my first choice, so I was just going to apply late, assume I wasn’t going to get in, and it would be practice for [the] next year. So I hurried up and took the test that you have to take—the LSAT. I did really well on it. So I threw out my [application] and then… I got accepted. [pretends to be shocked] It was the only school I applied to! I flew out here, met a real estate agent who picked me up… I [had] ten days to buy a house. I had to sell my house in Colorado, truck out here…
TYG-Graphic Design: You were already married at that point?
Holly: Yes. So he had to put in his notice at his job, I had to put in my notice… […] We were already really involved in greyhound rescue at that time—Shelby [Shelby Knife, her husband] and I were doing that in Colorado and were very active in that, and that was kind of my impetus for being interested in animal law.
So, we get out to the school, and I’m going to school, and I end up out at a moot court competition at Harvard, and one of the judges there turns out to be the person whose website I had seen originally. [animatedly pretending] “You’re the reason I’m in school! You’re the reason I’m here!” And he’s like, “Hello!” [laughter] And so, that person was Scott Beckstead. Scott Beckstead and I got to be buddies, from when I met him, and when I got out of school I went to practice at a little boutique law firm, the Law Office of Eden Rose Brown in Salem. She was a fantastic mentor. All we did was estate planning, and she was fabulous—taught me all kinds of things. And then Scott Beckstead decided he was going to work for the Humane Society of the United States, and my friend Laura Ireland and I took over his practice. He was here in Waldport—this was his practice. So the person that I was in Colorado stumbled on his site, learned about this, went to school, and ended up taking over his practice. […] So anyway, that’s how I ended up here!
TYG: That’s such an interesting story! […] So, how has business been going lately?
Holly: I am busy! Really busy. Happily, gratefully busy. [laughter] I’ve pretty much been busy since the doors opened.
TYG: I’m surprised so many people would be interested in estate planning, because Waldport is mostly young people!
Holly: I have clients from Lincoln City down through Yachats. Sometimes from Florence, but people don’t come up quite as much. But I also have clients who come over from Portland, especially people who are doing any kind of pet planning. I specialize in pet trusts. What a pet trust is… you can’t inherit money if you’re a dog. So they have these statutes in Oregon that say that you can create a pet trust, where the dog is going to be the beneficiary, and there’s a human trustee that oversees it. Not all states have these laws, but Oregon has really progressive, good laws around those. So what I do, is help people create this trust. So I would say, for example, [sotto voce] remind me of your dog’s name?
TYG: Tycho! And Soleil!
Holly: Right! […] So you can have the trustee and the caregiver be different, or the same person. So say it comes along with a $5,000 gift, or a $50,000 gift, or whatever—that’s really meant to be used for veterinary things or care of the animal, for the animal’s lifetime. So you have the trustee, who’s in charge of the money, and the caregiver.
TYG: Yeah. If Mom and Dad had a huge accident, and they were both killed, I would want to stay with Tycho and Soleil.
Holly: Yes, and that’s the kind of thing that I do! That’s actually more of a guardianship thing that we would commit to how you would be cared for.
TYG: Yes, but it would have to include the dogs, so you’d have a separate pet trust.
Holly: You could. There are lots of creative ways to do that.
TYG: I see. So, I think I’ve already answered the question “What exactly does this business do?”
Holly: Well, also part of what I do is plan for incapacity and death, and we do that through wills and through trusts. I actually also deal with after someone has passed away, their friends or their family, whomever they’ve named to take care of their estate—that’s all of the things they own—I deal with that as well, through probate and trust administration and small estate proceedings. Depending on the value of the estate, and what planning they did to begin with, that’s how we do that. So say in your will, Allen, you left your train set to your best friend. And then after you pass away, whoever you named to be the person to take care of everything hires an attorney, and I help that person make sure that your train set gets to your best friend, that all of those things happen that you put in your will.
TYG: [long discourse about how big his train set will get by the time he dies] So, does Shelby [Knife] actually work hours, or are you and Annie [Annie McHale, Holly’s Client Services Director] the only providers?
Holly: It’s me and Annie. Shelby doesn’t come in to the office and work, but he does do all of the employee taxes. He takes care of all the tax things and the business things, but everything else is Annie and myself.
TYG: Where do you thing the business will go in the next 10 years?
Holly: I assume it will continue to be doing exactly what we’re doing right now! We are considering adding another employee. We’re both really, really busy, and so we’re thinking about having a part-time receptionist come in for just four hours a day, so that Annie can focus more on the client services without being interrupted.
TYG-GD: What does Annie do, actually?
Holly: Oh my gosh, what doesn’t Annie do? [laughter]
TYG-GD: Well, she’s not a lawyer…
Holly: She’s not a lawyer. She’s… a lot of things. One of the things she does is what’s called “funding a trust.” What a trust is, is just a legal fiction. It’s a contract. So if we were going to make a trust for you, Allen, we would make the “Allen Trust,” and we would put all of your assets inside of the trust through paperwork. So we would say, “My train set now belongs to my trust. The deed to my house is filed under the name of my trust. My banking, my savings account and my checking account, are in the name of my trust.” [This is] instead of your own name. So the Allen Trust owns all of your things. Allen the individual doesn’t own anything.
TYG-GD: Why would you want to do that?
Holly: The big reason is that it avoids probate.
TYG-GD: What is probate?
Holly: Probate is the court process that happens when someone passes away who doesn’t have a trust. You usually have to do a nine- to twelve-month court proceeding that’s expensive and long.
TYG-GD: Everybody who dies has to have this?
Holly: No. Everybody who dies, who has real property valued at over $200,000, and/or personal property valued at more than $75,000. If a couple owns all of their things jointly, then at the death of the first of you, you don’t have to do it—the other one already owns it. But at the death of the second of you, then there will be a probate. Even if you have a will.
TYG: So, you probably want to do a trust right before [you die]. For example, if you have cancer, that’s when you do the trust.
Holly: Actually, it’s a good idea to do a trust much, much sooner than that. Either a trust, or a will, and something that deals with guardianship provisions, are something to do as soon as you become a parent.
TYG-GD: So… if, as an individual, you own nothing, who pays the taxes on your trust?
Holly: The taxes go through the same [procedure]. You still file your income taxes; you attach your social security number to the trust. So it’s still just you.
TYG: It’s not like the trust is a true entity.
Holly: Well, it is an entity.
TYG: What I mean, is that it’s not a self-functioning entity. It doesn’t do anything.
Holly: Right. It doesn’t do a whole lot—it’s just a basket. All it does is hold assets. That’s its entire purpose.
TYG: Oh, I see! The trust isn’t that bad. You still basically own it all.
Holly: You totally own it all. You have complete control over it; nothing actually changes as far as your assets. You’re in control of it. You can always amend [your trust], revoke it… you’re completely in control of it as long as you have capacity during your lifetime. If you lose capacity, it becomes irrevocable, because no one else can change your trust. You’re the only one. So if you’re in a car accident, and you’re in a coma for 10 years, your trust is in place just like it was—which is good! You don’t want someone else to be able to come in and change it.
TYG-GD: What about the trust makes it easier to dispose of your assets, once you’re dead?
Holly: Because… If you, Heather, have everything in the Heather Trust, then you Heather, as an individual, don’t have anything to go through the probate process in court. You get to do everything outside of the court. I mean, there are some things your trustee still has to do. [If] you leave everything to Allen, your trustee will have to give an accounting to Allen. [The process] needs to be very transparent: they need to see where the money went, which creditors got paid off, what’s left. So there’s still work to do, but it’s not that long back and forth of the probate court.
TYG-GD: Wow! I’ve got to call my Mom! [laughter] I just had no idea!
Holly: One of the big catalysts for people to come see me [is] right after their parents have died and they’ve gone through probate. […] We do estate planning for our kids, not for us—that’s the whole point.
TYG-GD: Is it a lengthy and expensive process to go through, making a trust?
Holly: A lot more than a will. It’s significantly more complex. Circling back to the Annie part… I didn’t finish answering the question; I got side-tracked! One of the things she does is fund the trust, which means, changing the ownership of all your assets into the trust; changing beneficiary designations on life insurance policies, that kind of thing. That’s the sort of thing she does.
TYG-GD: That’s a lot of paperwork!
Holly: Yes, it is a lot of paperwork. So she has whole separate funding meetings with clients and does that piece, and obviously she does all the scheduling, and drafting a lot of letters, and putting together whole chunks of things for filing in probate, guardianships, conservatorships… which are another part of what I do. So, Allen: [… a conservatorship] is where the court appoints somebody to pay [a person’s] bills and to manage their finances during their incapacity. And then they can also appoint a guardianship […] to look over a person. So this is the person who’s deciding where you’re going to live, and what kind of care you’re going to get. And again, often it could be the same person—same guardian and conservator—sometimes it’s different people. So part of the planning we do now, is to say “If I ever need a guardianship, this is who I want it to be.” And then it’s in writing, it’s all done, and then you don’t get stuck with your sister who you don’t like, or whatever.
TYG: Except in this case, Mom loves her sister. [laughter] By the way, so what is guardianship called for a kid, when the parents die or something? Can you tell me about that?
Holly: Guardianship for a minor. Oregon is actually an interesting place for that. There are states where you can actually say: “If I die, as a parent, and my child is under 18, I appoint X person as guardian.” Oregon is not one of those. In Oregon, we always have parents write a letter—kind of a To Whom It Concerns letter—for the just-in-case, and then we give those letters to the court. If nobody contests it, the judge almost always does what the parents want. But you can’t actually just appoint, the way you can in some other states. Different states have different laws around it. But you know one of the things I do with trusts that’s really cool? I like to put together what’s called a guardianship panel.
TYG: [gasps] So you can entrust it to your kids?
Holly: Your kids are a member of the panel. They’re not the only people. […]
TYG: Well, I guess I’ve asked all the questions!
Holly: Oh, wait! I have one more thing to tell you that you didn’t ask!
Holly: I’m still figuring it out! I was excited to tell you, because I thought it was going to be done, but it’s not done yet. I’m in the process of working out the kinks, because there are a few, of a really cool thing that I’m excited about: I am planning to offer complimentary wills to first responders in Lincoln County—because I love and appreciate so much what they do for us. [Shelby is a first responder for the Yachats Fire Department, too.]
TYG-GD: Wow! So that would mean that fire people and EMT people and police officers… Wow, free wills!
Holly: Yeah! So I’m going to have to work it out where I can do one a month, so people might have to book out a little ways, but I just think it would be important.
TYG-GD: What a wonderful service!
Holly: Yes, I’m really excited about it! You’re the first people I’ve told. But I haven’t worked out the kinks of it yet, because there’s this whole government official ethics stuff I’ve been talking with the board about how it works with gifting. It’s going to be fine, but I am going to have to, on a case by case basis, make sure for each person who comes in, what their scope of authority is, and if there’s any really potential back-scratching stuff that could go on. They might not be able to accept it—that kind of stuff.
TYG: That will be great!
Holly: Yes! It makes me happy, because they work so hard.
TYG: By the way, how do you write a will for someone who doesn’t have all their assets that they’re probably going to accumulate?
Holly: That’s a great question! Usually, if you’re doing a will, you say, “I leave my specific gift, like my shedfull of trains, to Andrew, and I donate my book collection to the library, and I leave $500 to the animal shelter, and then I leave the residue—everything else—to X,” to whomever you want.
TYG: Actually, it probably wouldn’t be Andrew—he probably wouldn’t be in there. Again, since he’s so close in age, we’re probably going to die about the same time—if we don’t die in an accident. So what happens if someone in your will dies before you do?
Holly: Another great question! We draft around that. We usually say things like, “My book collection, I’m going to leave to my friend Joe, and if Joe pre-deceases me, then I’m going to leave the book collection equally to his children.” Or, I say, “This gift lapses and it just goes back into my estate to be sold with everything else.” Or you can say, “If Joe pre-deceases, then I donate it to the library.” You usually have some kind of drop-down thing: if this, then that. Big part of estate planning. [laughter]
TYG: So you re-write your will each time you get something big new.
Holly: Only if you get something big that you want a specific person to have. Then you do what’s called a codicil. A codicil is a fancy word that means amending your will. In a trust, you can do it a little bit more creatively, because they have language in the trust that says… I make these pretty portfolios, and they’re organized, and I’m very proud of them… [laughter] and they have all these nice, customized tabs, and there’s a tab in there that says “Personal Property Memorandum.” Back there, it has a couple of columns that say, “I want to leave this thing to this person.” And then in the trust itself I say, “Go look back here at this tab, and if there’s anything written on there, it’s incorporated by reference into my trust. There’s all this flexibility, so you can kind of amend it on your own.
TYG: So is it possible to have a trust-will? Could you insert, in a trust, that, “If I decease, this goes to X person”?
Holly: You do that in your trust. So if you have a will, you do it in your will; and if you have a trust, you do it in your trust.
TYG-GD: So if you have a trust, you don’t need a will?
Holly: Another very good question. Actually you do, but it’s a different kind of a will. It’s called a pour-over will. […] So if I have a trust, and we put all of the assets in the trust basket, and I forget about my trust and I go and I buy a condo in Hawaii, and it’s only just in my name.
Holly: Now what happens, is that at my death, we have to do a probate, in Hawaii, for the one asset. When that probate is over, the pour-over will says, that asset pours over into the trust, so everything is still distributed the way that you wanted it to be to start with. So it’s kind of a net, a catch-all. So basically the will says, “My beneficiary is the trust.” They kind of go in tandem.
TYG-GD: How did all of this develop? I don’t want a huge history lesson, but where did all of these laws come from?
Holly: The laws of the wills came over from England. Really archaic—not much has changed, frankly. The trust things are basically a way to circumvent the probate that goes with the will, and they’re newer. Trusts have been around for a while, but it’s only been in the last 20 years or so that they’ve become prevalent. […] It used to be that you had trust fund babies, and it was only the really wealthy people who had trusts. That’s just not the case anymore—now all kinds of your average, everyday people have trusts because they want to avoid probate and have all the different pieces together.
TYG-GD: So, the function of probate is to ensure that governmental entities are paid their due before all this stuff disappears? Or what?
Holly: Well, back in the beginning it was to make sure that the families were cared for. So if the bread winner—way back when—got killed on the farm, and we want to make sure his wife is taken care of, the court ensured that that happened, and that the kids got some of that wealth. So now, the probate ensures that really happens. So the bad actor uncle can’t just come in and take everything. There’s at least some oversight. And you have to have some sort of authority. So… I own my home, and I pass away, there needs to be some kind of authority for the next person to be able to change my deed to the next owner. I can’t deal with it when I’m dead.
TYG-GD: Wow! And why did you get interested in this? [laughter]
Holly: Because it’s fun!
TYG: I can see where it’s fun! I might get a minor in law as well!
Holly: A minor in law. That’s awesome!
TYG: Thank you so much!
Holly: You’re welcome—this was fun!