The Matter of the Advance Directive

Heinz Noonan, the “Bearded Holmes” of the Sandersonville Police Department, was having a great day. It was great because the Christmas Vacation holiday was over and the twins were gone, back, allegedly, to their two colleges. It was a pleasure having them gone but, at the same time, he and his wife missed them. Not enough to have them return home but enough to think of them fondly.

The “Bearded Holmes” was lounging in his office at 9 a.m. on the Monday after the holiday because the rest of his staff was still recovering from the same when he got a call on his electronic Beelzebub. Only two people tied his life to that phone, his wife, who was still asleep – “let sleeping wives lie” – and the one and only Sandersonville Commissioner of Homeland Security, Edward Paul Lizzard, III. (It was hard to believe there could be two more!)

“Noonan,” in a flat tone.

“Good morning to you, Captain.” Whenever the Commissioner included the term ‘Captain’ in a sentence, it meant Noonan was going to have to do something unsavory.

“Yes, (pause) sir,” Noonan said with a pause not long enough to be considered insubordination.

“I have a problem right up your alley, Captain. Three people are on their way to your office. I need you to solve their problem, chop, chop.”

“Chop, chop, sir?”

“Quickly. As in, on the top of your to-do list.”

“I will do what I can,” but before he could utter the word “Sir,” the iPhone went dead. Not ‘dead’ as never to rise again, but ‘dead’ as in soundless.

Noonan was still holding his electronic Satan when three people trooped into his office. It was apparent they were Jewish. At least the men were because they were wearing skull caps.

“Captain Noonan?” The woman asked with hesitation.

“Not until there’s a crime. Let’s stick with ‘Heinz.’” He indicated the empty chair beside his desk and tilted his head toward some chairs against a side wall of his office. “You two can pull up the other chairs.”

The woman sat down as the men pulled up chairs beside his desk. When they were all seated, one of the men said, “We’re Jewish.”

Noonan smiled. “That’s not a cross to bear.”

Everyone laughed.

That broke the ice.

The woman smiled, “We were told you could be a card. They were right. We have a problem, not a crime, or at least not a Christian crime, so to speak, and it was suggested we contact you for, shall we say, guidance.”

Noonan smiled as he dug through the pile of notebooks on his desk. As he plowed, he said, “Let me guess, you’d rather not give me your names.”

“You are correct,” one of the men said. “It’s personal rather than legal. Or, in this case, Biblical.”

Noonan smiled as he nodded.

“And time is critical,” said the woman as she shuddered.

“OK,” Noonan said as held his pen over a blank page in a notebook. “Let’s hear the bad news.”

There was silence for a moment and then one of the men finally said, “Do you know what the levirate is?”

Noonan got the message immediately. “It’s when a widow has to marry the brother of her deceased husband. Let me guess,” he looked at the woman. “You’re the widow and one of these men is your brother-in-law.”

“Me,” said the taller of the men. “But I’m married and I can’t get a divorce.”

“And I,” said the shorter man, “am the husband to be. Harry, Julie’s husband,” he tilted his head toward the woman, “has been deceased for more than year. We’ve been living together for months and expect to get married well, as soon as you can solve our problem.”

Noonan chuckled. “I don’t understand what the problem is yet. If she,” he pointed his pen at Julie, “is a widow she can legally marry you in North Carolina as long as you are not a close relative.”

“W-e-l-l,” said the taller man, “it’s not that simple. See, my father is a Holocaust survivor. He is quite wealthy. I say ‘is’ because he is still alive but in a coma. He is not expected to live much longer. He’s 101. He is quite orthodox, and, in his will, he required all of us,” he pointed at himself and Julie, “to abide by scripture.”

“Including the levirate,” Noonan added flatly.

“That is correct,” cut in Julie. “If he dies without regaining consciousness, the will stands as he wrote it 30 years ago. There are millions at stake here. As long as everyone follows orthodox scripture, everyone is included in the will. Anyone who does not is cut out of the will.”

“How many are in the will?”

“Four,” the taller man said as he pointed at the woman, “Julie, if I marry her, myself and two sisters. My sisters – how do I say it nicely? – are money grubbers to the nth degree. Worse, one of them is the executor of my father’s estate. If our father dies today, Julie and I will be cut out of the will and my two sisters will get it all.”

Now Julie cut in. “The obvious solution, if we had time, was for George to get a divorce and have me marry him long enough for his father to die. After my father-in-law died, we’d get divorced, he would remarry his current wife and I would marry Harry,” she pointed to the shorter man.

Noonan shook his head. “I’m not up to snuff on divorce laws but I’d say it takes a bit of time to get a divorce. Even if you can get a quickie in, say, Mexico, you would still run out of time. And,” he titled his head to the tall man, “if your sisters suspected fraud, well, they could tie up the will for years. When there’s a will, there will be relatives.”

“You got it,” said the taller man. “Even if it were possible, we don’t have that kind of time.”

Now the short man spoke up. “We were told you could work miracles.”

“When it comes to miracles, that’s God’s job, not mine.” Noonan handed Julie his notebook. “Give me a way to reach you. I’ll see what I can come up with.”

* * *

            Whenever Noonan had a loo-loo case, he went to his two, tried-and-true sources of information: local newspapers and local history. But there was no local history or local newspapers that would help him in this matter. But he did have the internet. That was the good news. The bad news was when it came to religion, it was a very murky pool. This case was made worse, so to speak, because it mixed orthodoxy with modern jurisprudence. That is never a good mix.


Scripturally, the levirate was clear.

Deuteronomy 25:5-10 King James Version 5 If brethren dwell together, and one of them die, and have no child, the wife of the dead shall not marry without unto a stranger: her husband’s brother shall go in unto her, and take her to him to wife, and perform the duty of an husband’s brother unto her.


There was also a sororate that required the sister of a deceased or infertile wife to marry or have sex with her brother-in-law. Historically this was a way of keeping the family heritage intact, a tactic Noonan had no trouble interpreting: keeping all assets within the family. While the levirate was not legal in American jurisprudence, a person could put anything they wanted in a will. That was the person’s wish even if it was ludicrous – like leaving all her money to her cat. If that’s what the person wanted, that was what was going to happen with their will. There was no wiggle room in the law.

He was still wrangling with the problem when he got Julie on the phone. He didn’t know the name of her brother-in-law, so he just referred to him as her ‘brother-in-law.’

“How close is your brother-in-law to his sisters? By that I mean, is there any possibility of working out a compromise on the will?”

“No really. They never liked me, or him. My father-in-law did not welcome me into the family with open arms because I was a Unitarian. I lived up to the Jewish traditions at family gatherings,” she paused, “but it has been difficult. As soon as my father-in-law dies, there will be a shiva. That’s a seven-day period of mourning where the family stays together. Same house, in this case, for seven days. I am NOT looking forward to that.”

“But if you are not part of the family, why go?”

“Good point. I am hopeful there will be some kind of compromise offered by then. I am considering taking the matter to court.”

“Good thought but I do not see a court giving you any relief. Your father-in-law was in his right mind when he made the will. You can’t dispute that.”

“It’s worth a try.”

“OK, how solid is the will?”

“Straight forward, I guess you’d say. Short, sweet and to the point. All property is to be divided equally in four ways, two sons and two daughters. If any of them are not alive when the will is read, the money goes to the deceased’s offspring.”

“Now, as I remember, one of your sisters-in-law is the executor of the estate.”

“That’s correct.”

“So, crudely stated, she has the purse strings.”

“I’m not a lawyer so I do not know the fine details. Overall, yes. But my late husband handled the day-to-day operation of the business. He paid the bills and filed the taxes. He had the power of attorney for the business, but not the invested moneys. When my husband died, I took over his job. As long as my father-in-law is living, I receive a salary from the business because I work there. I do not know what will happen after he dies.”

Noonan fiddled with his pen. “Did your father-in-law have a living will?”

“Yes. My husband was the recipient; I guess you’d say. When he died, I became the representative. Once again, the will only gives me the power to make medical decisions. And the Advance Directive gives me Power of Attorney to pay the bills of the business, not to distribute any money to individuals.”

A dull chime echoed in Noonan’s cerebral cavity. “Are the parents of your husband-to-be still living?”

Julie gave him an odd look. “No, why?”

The dull chime was now deafening, literally speaking.

* * *

            Two weeks later Harriet, the office manager and Il Duce of Common Sense, came into Noonan’s office with a photograph of a couple on a beach and a T-shirt with a repulsive, red, wooden carving of a Tiki with its tongue out against a backdrop of blue palm trees. (Blue palm trees?!) On the back of the shirt, the same Tiki was holding a surfboard with ethnic lettering on the back.

“I’ve always wanted to get lei-ed in Hawaii, but I’ve never been there. What’s this all about?”

Noonan looked at the T-shirt and photograph. “It’s extra-large,” he said flatly. “I wear a medium.”

“Not a problem. I’ll keep it. You can’t accept gifts anyway. I’m sure I can find some hulky man to wear the shirt.”

“Beach is full of ‘em,” Noonan said as he went back to the paperwork on his desk.

“Not so fast, buckaroo.” Harriet pulled the paperwork in front of Noonan’s eyes sideways. “This,” she shook the photograph with her free hand, “was not a loo-loo call I took. So, tell Mama all about it.”

“Not much. Just another lucky guess.”

“Well, guess me.”

“Do you know what the levirate is?”

“The rate the Family of Levi pays for a vacation cottage?”

Noonan chuckled. “Not even a good guess. It’s from the Old Testament. It stipulates that if a husband dies, his wife must marry the deceased husband’s brother.”

“That could be good or bad depending on the brother.”

“That too, is funny. In this case,” he pointed to the photograph, “the husband was married. The father of the two men was a stickler for religion and to inherit a portion of the estate, the widow had to marry the living brother. If she didn’t, both the widow and the brother would be disinherited.”

“Tough family. Why didn’t the brother get divorced, marry the widow, inherit the money, divorce the widow, and remarry his wife?”

“Not enough time. The old man was on his deathbed and could die at any moment.”

Harriet thought for a moment and then looked at the photograph. “She looks happy. Like she inherited.”

“Should be and I’m guessing she did. She had her cake and ate it too. In this case, wedding cake. She was engaged to that man in the photograph as her father-in-law was dying.”

“I see, oh ‘Bearded Holmes,’ so what magical, mystical solution do you spring on the religious community?”

“Simple, I just suggested the husband-to-be be adopted by the dying father-in-law. That would make him a brother of the brother-in-law.”

“Very clever. And the old man said, ‘Yes.’”

“No. He was in a coma.”

“Uh, huh. How did you get a man in a coma to adopt a son?”

“Easy, actually. The widow’s husband had been running the family business and had Power of Authority for business dealings. When he died, the Power of Authority passed to his wife. She used the Power of Authority to pay for an adoption. With the death of her husband, the widow had the full power of the Advanced Directive. The legal bill for the adoption was a business expense so she could legally pay for it.”

Harriet chuckled. “Let me guess, the other parties to the will did not even know about the adoption until the will was read.”

“Almost. Did you know what a shiva is?”

“Don’t get all religious on me. No, and I don’t want to guess.”

“A shiva is a week-long mourning period for the deceased. Shiva is the Hebrew word for seven. Seven days. In America it is referred to as a “sitting shiva” where everyone in the family laments the passing for seven days after the burial.”

“Now I will guess. The widow marries the newly-adopted son who is now her religious brother-in-law. She is now married to a brother, so she inherits. She pops the news at the shiva.”

            “I wasn’t there so I don’t know. But she looks happy,” he again pointed at the photograph, “so it worked.”

“Couldn’t the others in the family sue for fraud?”

“No fraud involved. The widow had the Advance Directive to make monetary decisions for the father-in-law while he was in the coma. She had the power to pay the lawyer and the only people who can object to an adoption are the parents of the person about to be adopted. His parents were dead. The widow told me.”

“But there still could be a way …”

“Doubt it. First, adoption records are sealed. Second, having the widow marry her brother-in-law took her other brother-in-law off the hook. If the sisters, two of them, wanted to go to court, it would be two against two. I’m sure some lawyer told the sisters it was not a winning proposition.”

“So, the sisters had to suck it up.”

Noonan pointed to the photograph again, “Well, where there’s a will there’s a way.”

Steven C. Levi is a sixty-something freelance historian and commercial writer who lives in Anchorage, Alaska, his home for past 40 years. He has a BA in European History and MA in American history from the University of California Davis and San Jose State. He has more than 80 books in print or on Kindle.