TDS 25, Zach Engstrom, The Only Sure Things: Death, Taxes, and Eating
I admit that I have a romanticized view of the small town attorney. This is an image of someone who is part of the fabric of the community, with a mix of the wisdom of Atticus Finch from To Kill A Mockingbird blended with the worldly jazz-playing coolness of Paul Biegler of Anatomy of a Murder rolled up into one. Such a lawyer as that would require the older moniker of Esquire, which I think suits this week’s guest on #thedeliciousstory.
Zach Engstrom Esq. is an estate attorney with Letsch Law Firm based in Grimes, Iowa. As he points out, he knows how to run with open-ended questions, and I have loads of them, and in the end it worked great because Zach is a truly eloquent storyteller.
Zach takes us on a fast and entertaining journey that brings us up to speed on his work today, and we even discuss estate planning tips and insights based on his expertise with the caveat this is not offered up as legal advice. In between, we dive into the unique approach Letsch Law serves within the community, and of course, we talk memorable meals.
WHY THIS STUFF MATTERS
On the surface, Zach’s legal specialty may seem like a depressing one, but he explains that it was the work of contracts that captured his interest and creating strong ones which led him to become passionate about the subject of estates.
At this point in the conversation as we talk assets, my eyes sort of glaze over because I don’t think David and I will have all that much for the kids to deal with once we leave this coil. Ultimately, maintaining harmony and acceptable dispersion of whatever remains after our death is the goal. I think of it as perhaps my last supper, the one I won’t attend in person, but I pick the menu. Those family and friends who are on hand gather and eat and enjoy a great cabernet with a nod to me. I’d like it all to run smoothly and not be a pain.
Zach points out that assets of value are only a part of the equation. It does behoove those with larger estates, such as farms and other investments, to work with a pro like Zach to ensure a smooth transition within the family. He explains some of the unfortunate outcomes for those who take shortcuts and don’t work with an expert. But beyond the tangible assets, things can go from strange to downright ugly over items of sentimental value as well, so even a well-executed will can take some of those things into account.
There are plenty of alarming stories of families who have fought horrible legal battles over memorabilia of a deceased, such as in the case of Robin William’s family in the article titled “When Heirs Fight Over Assets With Sentimental Value,” by Paul Sullivan. Sadly, it makes sense that with heirlooms involving Williams—with great monetary value—get family fighting, and a blended family only complicates matters. But then there are the stories of siblings who get lost in conflict over sentimental items that have no cash value. Is it all about greed in the end?
On a Google sidetrack, I slid down the rabbit hole in researching this idea of divvying up estates equally among children of the deceased. It turns out this concept is a contemporary phenomenon. Over at The Atlantic the article titled, “It Used To Be Okay For Parents To Play Favorites,” by Jennifer Traig, she provides loads of biblical and historical reminders that much of human history involves designating inheritance by birth order and that sibling rivalry is built in.
What’s more, lest we get too upset about siblings fighting over stuff, we only need to glance at our own childhood experiences to be reminded that this is an evolutionary thing. Traig suggests that children fight because they are wired to do so—programmed to turn on the competition for precious resources. Is it any wonder this can play out in estates?
In other words, this fighting for stuff could be driven, in part, by primal urges. But let’s say if you don’t want some version of Cain and Abel to play out in your family, estate planning is critical. As Zach says, “You can divide up money but not Grandma’s recipe book.”
NOT THE LAST MEAL BUT A GREAT ONE
We did move on to talking a lot about food, and in particular some of the events held at Letsch Law Firm where food was a part of the theme. They have office space they’ve opened up for use by artists to showcase work, and also host events throughout the year designed to draw in the community for fun and connection. Zach describes some of the recent favorites you can hear about during the interview, and if you live in the area, check them out.
The added perk for these events is that the food is often catered in by Zach’s mom, who no longer works in the business but offers her catering expertise for Letsch events. They try to align the foods served with whatever the theme is for the gig, but it turns out Zach’s mom drew the line on a few items for the Star Wars party.
Most touching and delectable was Zach’s take on the top four ingredients required for a perfect meal. His ideas are lovely, and I’d agree. Perhaps you would add or amend the top four ingredients? Listen in and share your top four ingredients with a comment!
ZACH’S CHILI RECIPE
Here from Zach’s recipes to you:
The first thing I ever learned to make was chili. Mom catered nights, and Pop was more of a frozen meal type of chef, so I picked up the slack. I've experimented with several options over the years, but the original recipe still stems from Mama Engo's down-home cooking. As you don't have access to her garden preserves, however, I'll translate it to a Hy-Vee friendly version.
2lbs ground beef
1-2 onions, diced
2 green bell peppers, diced
2 14oz cans of petite diced tomatoes
1 can of Rotel
2 14oz cans of chili beans
1 can of black beans (drained)
1 small can of tomato paste
2 packets of chili seasoning (yes, it's a shortcut)
1tbsp of brown sugar
1tbsp of butter
(Optional but highly recommended) a healthy sprinkling of garlic, chili powder, curry powder, turmeric, and a tablespoon of red Thai curry paste. Also, and bear with me, a can of sweet corn (drained) if you're feeling festive. I like a dash of Tabasco for flavor and Sriracha for heat.