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Carol Ross Joynt: Excerpt From “Innocent Spouse”
She let him handle all their money. When he died, lawyers told her he had been cheating the IRS. And she was on the hook for millions. By Carol Ross Joynt
Comments () | Published June 2, 2011

"Life with Howard was a big step up," the author says of her late husband. "It taught me that having money was better." 

Looking back, I’ve always called it “the morning of the lawyers.” Like so many twists and turns in my life after my husband, Howard, died suddenly of pneumonia, it seemed benign at the outset.

His accountant said, “You need to call Howard’s lawyers,” and I took that as just another bureaucratic hurdle I had to jump in settling my husband’s estate. My focus was on shoring up whatever needed to be done to protect my son and me and to get Nathans—the saloon in Georgetown that Howard had owned since 1969—sold as quickly as possible. I wanted all the loose ends tied up, some money in the bank, and then a period to grieve and figure out the rest of our lives.

I’d grown up middle class in a military/academic family with little money to spare. From age 18 until I met Howard when I was 26, I’d earned my own way, modestly but comfortably. Life with Howard was a big step up, and it taught me that having money was better. Money bought good schools, good doctors, restful vacations, beautiful homes, excellent services, and a world of agreeable people who more often than not enjoyed similarly comfortable lives. I might be a widow now, but at least my five-year-old son, Spencer, and I would have enough money.

That morning in February 1997, like all the others since Howard’s death two weeks before, I moved from sleep to the wakeful haze of grief. I got up, ran, made breakfast, got Spencer off to school, and prepared to face the day.

I dressed for my meeting like an actress preparing for a role—the role of Howard’s widow. I did it for his sake. He had always been particular, and I wanted him to approve of my appearance. I wore my best black suit and shoes and my most discreet jewelry. The only thing missing was a black veil.

The offices of Caplin & Drysdale are in an impressive building on DC’s Thomas Circle. The firm specializes in tax law and is named for heavy hitters Mortimer Caplin, a former commissioner of the IRS, and Douglas Drysdale, a tax lawyer with more than four decades of experience.

I stepped off the elevator. There was a wash of cool gray in the walls, the carpet, the furniture, and the mood. The receptionist invited me to take a seat. “I’ll let them know you’re here, Mrs. Joynt,” she said.

I sat on a gray sofa, handbag in lap, and stared into the middle distance. The experience was new to me, and a little unsettling. Lawyers, contracts, business matters—these were all things Howard had handled on his own. My meeting today, I assumed, would be a formality. The lawyers would offer their condolences, maybe have me sign some documents, wish me well, and send me on my way.

Next: The case is now your responsibility. You are the defendant.

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Posted at 11:55 AM/ET, 06/02/2011 RSS | Print | Permalink | Comments () | Washingtonian.com Articles