Small Town Preacher

His sister was diagnosed with brain cancer, so the small town preacher moved to the city where she lived. A friendly and rugged man, he quickly met several locals who belonged to an exclusive businessmen's club. They asked the preacher to prepare a short message for an upcoming event. The members, he was told, wanted to hear something unusual.

In June, the preacher drove to a waterfront hotel for the club's luncheon. Following a brief introduction, he took the microphone and waited for the members to be silent. With a calm voice, he began speaking:

"In August of 1968, my parents invited nearly 100 people to their small home. After all, their beloved and only son had returned safely from Vietnam. Most of my relatives, neighbors and lifelong friends were at the homecoming celebration. They were having a great time, but I was struggling. My mind just wouldn't leave Vietnam! Drinking shots of Jack Daniel's whiskey kept the demons at a distance."

"Shortly after my uncle gave a patriotic speech, my father started pressuring me to tell everyone about the War. I kept warning him that it wasn't a good idea, but he wouldn't take no for an answer. Okay, I thought to myself, I'll get everything off my chest. For some 20 minutes, I graphically described how I had ruthlessly maimed, killed and mutilated North Vietnamese soldiers. It was beyond sick! And, to make matters even worse, I finished by saying that Hell was surely waiting for me. My mother started crying, dad was in shock, and my hippie fiancée ran out of the backyard and never spoke to me again! Confessing the War crimes at the party didn't bring me any peace."

"Six years later, and after becoming a divorced alcoholic, I began to learn the truth. First, I was actually on the road to Hell long before the atrocities in Vietnam. My prior lying, stealing and sexual exploits had already separated me from God. Second, because of His horrific crucifixion, JESUS has the solitary power to FORGIVE all sins. He is God! The Holy Bible, which is the Word of God, contains the entire truth."

"Now, I'm 99% sure that none of you have committed any war crimes. However, I am 100% certain that all of you have lied and fallen short in other ways. I'll return to this fact in a minute."

"Before coming here today, I took the time to read your Pinnacle Club website. It says that no businessman can become a member unless he is approved by every current member. Also, it states that each member must adhere to high moral standards and contribute generously to the Club's selected charities. Obviously, the Pinnacle Club has rules that members must follow."

"Okay, let's get back to the fact that every man in this room has sinned. First, God has an exclusive club called Heaven, which is greater than anything you can imagine! He alone sets the rules for membership. Because He is perfection and has ZERO TOLERANCE for any UNFORGIVEN lie or other sin, we can't get into Heaven unless we are TOTALLY FORGIVEN! Second, trying to be a good person and helping others is great, but it WON'T open the gates of Heaven. God doesn't grade on a curve, and good deeds won't cancel out any sins. The ONLY SOLUTION to the sin problem is JESUS!"

"From 1968 to 1978, I endured recurring nightmares about Vietnam. Screaming, crying, sweating and violent kicking and punching were routine. My young bride finally left me after I broke her ribs and nose! What if, I often thought, I slept forever and the horrible nightmares never stopped? This is how I relate to Hell—the unbearable place made for those who ignore or reject Jesus and His saving grace. God has given each of you free will, and your decisions about Jesus will determine your ETERNAL DESTINATION!"

"Men, in closing, I want to sum things up in the simplest way. According to God's Word, Hell is for unforgiven sinners, and Heaven is for totally forgiven sinners. And, most importantly, JESUS—and ONLY JESUS––can forgive ALL your sins! I thank each of you for letting me speak here today."

A letter to the preacher soon followed from the Pinnacle Club's secretary. He wrote that the preacher's speech had "upset" some of the members—all of whom he described as being "good and honest men!"

Courthouse Conversation

Just before July 4th, the preacher went to the Lamoreaux Justice Center in the City of Orange. He found his way to the probate court office and sat down in the visitors' computer section. He was all alone, except for one slender man whose eyes were focused on a small monitor. When the man began stretching, the preacher decided to strike up a conversation:

Preacher: Excuse me. This is my first time here, and I'm wondering if you could help me?
John: I'll try. What's your story?
Preacher: Well, my sister is fighting terminal cancer, and she has a living trust. I'm here today because I want to learn about the problems I might run into as successor trustee. I also brought her trust document to compare it with some others.
John: I'm really impressed! Most people––until it is way too late––are clueless when it comes to trust messes. How did you know to come here?
Preacher: My sister gave me an article on trust problems that recommended the Lamoreaux Justice Center as a valuable resource.
John: Very interesting. Did the article have a strange title like "YOUR LIVING TRUST: It is not Wonder Bread!"?
Preacher: Wow, it sure did! How did you know that?
John: It's simple. I wrote that article in 2008 as an advertisement in The Orange Coast Voice. You can see it and more at
Preacher: I believe we were destined to meet.
John: Even better, your timing is perfect! This office is being moved to the Central Justice Center in Santa Ana, so I'm doing some last minute research. These trust court cases can drag on for years and easily rack up $100,000 to $200,000 in legal fees! Anyway, I'm spending the day here, so let me give you a few pointers.
Preacher: Okay, I'm ready to learn.
John: First, hand me any of those notebooks sitting over there on the records' table.
Preacher: Man, this one marked "2007" is heavy!
John: It should be. There are 585 pages containing all of the probate court's activities for 2007. Its technical name is the Orange County Superior Court Index to Probate. Now, I want to show you something really interesting. Starting on page 515 with this 1992 Family Trust and ending on page 525 with this Japanese family's Revocable Living Trust, there are nearly 300 different trust cases!
Preacher: That's a lot of trust cases for only 11 pages! What about the other 574 pages?
John: Before we go there, I'm curious about that scar on your throat.
Preacher: Sounds fair, but I need to warn you! It's not something I'm proud of, and the particulars will probably offend you.
John: I'm okay with that, and I do want to hear the details. In fact, I've been studying court case details for 30 years. You can go down to Newport Beach, for example, and pay $10,000 or more for a 100 page trust document. Then, when death comes, one little sentence or paragraph can cause the whole thing to blow up like a bomb! The hard part is learning how to spot that one sentence or paragraph––before the disaster occurs. Smarter I'm not, but very experienced I am. That's why I get hired. I also research the problems encountered by families who don't use a trust for their estate planning. At any rate, please go on.
Preacher: Well, it all started around midnight on November 17, 1967, when assassins from the North Vietnamese Dak To 1967Army, or NVA, crept into the Dak To airstrip. Only seconds after I was dealt a hand of aces and kings, a huge explosion blew hot shrapnel into my back, butt and legs, and knocked me unconscious! When I woke up, the bunker was pitch black and my legs were limp. Everyone else inside was dead. Bleeding and vomiting from the stench, I had to crawl over the mangled bodies to get out.

I spent the next three months recovering at a Pleiku hospital filled with casualties from Dak To. Arms and legs were stumps, eyes were blind, and faces had been destroyed beyond recognition. Sleeping was impossible as men cried and moaned all night. Something snapped in my head! I quit shaving, trashed my mail, and became obsessed with revenge.

One week after I was sent back to Bravo Company, I killed six NVA soldiers––and brutally decapitated each one! The captain got in my face, but I sensed it was just a show. He was after medals and knew I could jack up his NVA body count. I soon became the platoon sergeant of a group of dangerous misfits, and my atrocities escalated in viciousness.

Finally, it all came to a head on a balmy June morning in 1968. I was in a foul mood as I led 15 men on a long patrol down into a dense jungle valley. Without any warning, a barrage of bullets came out of nowhere––killing five of my men instantly! After a fierce fire fight, I was down to four fighting men and realized we were in front of a small NVA bunker complex. Worried that the NVA soldiers might try to flank us, I paired my men and sent them 30 yards out to the left and right. Our radio looked like Swiss cheese, but I figured that Bravo Company heard the gunfire and was on its way. The wounded were nearly dead.

The enemy stopped firing soon after my men took their positions. A deathly silence filled the air as a soft rain began to fall. Suddenly, I heard yelling in the distance. To my surprise, two NVA soldiers started prancing straight towards me––with their hands up in the air! This made me crazy! I jumped to my feet and began shooting, but my unreliable M-16 rifle jammed after three rounds. My shots missed the khaki clad soldiers, who frantically dove behind a teak tree about 25 yards in front of me.

Over the next 10 minutes, the two NVA soldiers showed their faces several times. They looked like new recruits with their shaved heads, and I was planning to kill them when they tried to run from the huge tree. Finally, when they stopped peeking and didn't bolt, my anger won out. I put down the lousy rifle, grabbed a .38 caliber pistol with my left hand, and sprang to my feet. Moving in for the kill, I put my right hand on the handle of a small machete that was sheathed on my left hip. However, just as I was yanking out the machete, I stumbled slightly––putting my own throat in the path of the razor sharp tip. I was facing the tree and shocked when blood started spraying out onto my arms! My mind drew a blank.

Coming to my senses, I dropped the pistol and machete, ripped open a gunshot dressing, and pressed it hard against my throat with both hands. The blade tip had just nicked my jugular vein! Helpless and waiting for the enemy to circle the tree, I started picturing the small men hacking me into pieces with my prized machete! It seemed like an eternity before Bravo Company found me some five minutes later.

While waiting for the last medevac helicopter to land, one of my men ran up to me and said, "Sarg, something weird happened! Those bunkers were a mini hospital, and we found two young NVA nurses hiding in an animal hole underneath that monstrous teak tree! They were wearing khaki uniforms and had shaved heads like men. The captain is talking medals for capturing the two broads." I was stunned by his words. If God had not intervened, I would have unknowingly slaughtered the young nurses! Not until years later did I tell anyone the truth about that day.
John: Whew, I don't know what to say. That must have been horrible to relive. I'm really sorry for prying into your past.
Preacher: Don't feel bad. I gave all those burdens to Jesus years ago. Right now, my greatest concern is my sister's situation.
John: Of course, I understand. Let's get back to your question about the other 574 pages in the 2007 probate court index. What do you think we're gonna find?
Preacher: Probably more trust cases.
John: That's exactly right. There are hundreds more! Now, as a trust consultant since 1982, I've got some other insider info. These court cases are only the tip of a deep iceberg! Much more money—in the millions—is being spent each year for out-of-court and unexpected trust administration. Surviving spouses with family subtrusts are shelling out the most cash. The widows cry and the widowers curse!
Preacher: Sounds to me like the lawyers are doing a pitiful job!
John: Yes, thousands of bad trusts have been sold, but there are also hundreds of attorneys who would love to do better work. Sadly, most people aren't willing to pay for it! Instead, they read misleading ads and buy cheap boilerplate trusts––without doing any serious estate planning. Always remember that every trust document is a consumer product, and the quality can range from very good to very bad. Also, you need to know that many costly trust problems are caused by uninformed trustees. The worst way to learn is from your own mistakes!
Preacher: Are trust problems evolving with time?
John: Believe it or not, the majority of them are similar problems being repeated year after year. In 2001, I published The Revealing Trust Series, which included photocopies of Orange County court cases from 1999. Now, it's 2013, and the same types of trust cases are still coming into this courthouse. It's like robbery and murder––they never go out of style!
Preacher: I'm uptight about dealing with my sister's two kids. They're both in their 30's and very irresponsible. My sister has been supporting them for years. They also think like Woody Allen.
John: Woody Allen the comedian?
Preacher: You got it. He once said, "I don't fear death. I just don't want to be there when it happens!" Just like Woody, the two kids don't want to face reality. When my dear sister dies, they're going to come at me like two wounded tigers!
John: Keep calm, there are humane ways to handle misguided heirs. Hey, it's almost noon. Do you have time to go across the street for lunch? I can look over your sister's trust document at the restaurant. I've got plenty of wild and enlightening stories from my past dealings as a professional trustee.
Preacher: That would be great. I'll buy, and I want to pay you for your time.
John: I'll let you spring for a turkey burger, but that's all. If you need any life insurance or other financial products, I also own an insurance and investment brokerage. My specialty is working with trust holders, so it's critical to read their documents—before selling any products. When it comes to trusts, poor or omitted wording or inappropriate designs can destroy the best financial plans!
Preacher: I have several life insurance policies that need a review.
John: I can give you a short and simple lesson on life insurance right now. First, every policy has an insured person, an owner, and a beneficiary. Second, the insured person never changes, but the owner and/or beneficiary can be changed multiple times to entities or people. For example, when a husband and wife have one adult child and a family trust, there are more than 20 possible owner/beneficiary combinations for the spouses' policies! I developed the O Method as an insurance broker to teach clients how to recognize and use policy owner/beneficiary combinations to prevent various postmortem trust problems. Also, major trust flaws are often exposed during the O Method process.
Preacher: That was informative! I'd like to add the O Method to my learning list.
John: Good thinking! By the way, I have a confession to make. When you walked into this room, I recognized you right away. In June, I caught the last minute of your speech at the Pinnacle Club luncheon. I was there delivering documents to a member. Your words made me realize that a teenager who hands out Bible tracts is far more valuable to my clients than I am!
Preacher: Not so fast! I once was a sick Vietnam vet who became an alcoholic, destroyed his marriage, and couldn't earn a decent wage. After meeting Jesus and becoming sober, I graduated from college, remarried my beautiful wife, and worked as a civil engineer. Now I'm a preacher! Dear friend, never underestimate how Jesus will help or use you!


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"John" is John M. Maag, President of Estate Conservation, Inc.

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