During her 17 years as a CPA, Kelly Pinckard has held a variety of challenging positions, including auditor at a Big Six accounting firm and industry accountant in manufacturing.
“For the past eight years, however, I have created a niche area of accounting and taxation that is the most rewarding to date,” Kelly says. “Estate Accounting Solutions was launched in late 2007 to provide relief to executors, trustees, conservators and guardians struggling with complicated and delinquent accounting reports.”
While serving as executor for her own mother’s estate, Kelly discovered the complexity that the task can present to family members and friends of the deceased.
“I wondered how many executors managed without an accounting background,” she recalls. “Furthermore, many executors are grieving and may find it difficult to complete such an impersonal task as an accounting report so soon after the death of their loved one.”
Kelly’s inspiring story about how she helped one client, in particular, overcome these kinds of challenges was selected as a grand prize winning entry in our Meet the Difference Makers Contest this summer.
“After his best friend died without a will and not a single person from the decedent’s family offered to fulfill this necessary role, my client stepped forward to be sworn in as the administrator of the estate,” Kelly explains in her story.
Originally referred to Kelly by an attorney, the client discovered the full magnitude of the responsibility only when a genealogist hired by the estate identified 164 living heirs.
A gentleman in his ’70s suffering from poor health, the client diligently took care of physical tasks, such as cleaning out the home, maintenance of the property and preparing the house for sale – even while grieving.
However, when the time came to prepare the annual accounting report and calculate the distributions to the 164 heirs, the gentleman became extremely stressed and was clearly not able to cope.
“I essentially took over all estate administration functions from there,” Kelly says, and she continued to complete the task even long after all the of estate’s funds were allocated elsewhere.
“There came a point where I decided to stop charging for my services,” she adds. “CPAs and attorneys are always the first to get paid but I didn’t collect. I decided the only way to close this estate would be to calculate the final distributions for the 164 heirs and push through until all had received their checks. It took about 15 months.”
Kelly spent a great many hours performing her now-voluntary duties and realizes that other CPAs might have taken a different approach.
“Likely, the outcome would have been that the estate funds would have been used up in accounting and attorney fees, with nothing left to be paid out to the heirs,” she says. “And, that would have been acceptable and perfectly legal.”
Why was Kelly so willing to go above and beyond?
“My client had a fiduciary duty to his best friend – and I had a fiduciary duty both to my client and to the heirs,” she explains. “I could have walked away from this estate with thousands more in accounting fees but I wouldn’t have been walking away feeling good about it.”
What’s more, the client himself received no fees for all the work he did on the estate; his executor’s compensation was reduced to nothing by the courts because he chose to hire Kelly to perform the duties he was expected to do.
“There was nothing I could legally do to reinstate his compensation,” she says. “My client could have walked away from this estate since there was nothing in it for him, but he wanted to honor his best friend by doing the right thing. And, I wanted to honor my client by doing the right thing.”
Calling it the most complicated estate situation that she has ever faced, Kelly worked patiently with the client for a total of five years.
“I kept thinking that if my father was in the same position as my client, how would I want him to be treated?” Kelly recalls. “So, I treated my client like that. Like family. It made my decision to help him out during the most stressful period of his life a very easy one.”
Two years after finally closing the estate, the client and his wife still call to check in on Kelly.
“And, I made it onto their Christmas card list,” she adds.
“There is no paycheck that could surpass the good feeling I get from thinking about the difference I made by helping them when they needed it the most.”