Most people would go to great lengths to keep from having to write an $800,000 check to the U.S. Department of Treasury. But in death, that is exactly what Peter and Joan Petrasek, of Seattle, asked lawyers to do for them. In their will, the couple asked that their entire inheritance be given “to the government of the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.”
The Seattle Times reports attorney Carrie Balkema administered the couple’s estate and last month had a cashier’s check cut for the amount of $847,215.57. That was all of the cash from the couple’s accounts and what was left over from the sale of their home.
It took just over three years to finalize the estate. Peter Petrasek died May 5, 2012. His wife died in 1999.
Their neighbor, Ron Wright, told KIRO News that he lived next door to them for 30 years and called them “great neighbors.”
Another neighbor, Marisa Deligerza, was also friendly with the couple. She said she was slightly surprised when she learned where the money was going. But, she said, if others knew the couple’s story they might understand.
“Honestly, we thought there were some other great places he could give it to, but we thought he really must have just appreciated the opportunity he had here in the U.S.,” she told KIRO News.
That opportunity stands in contrast to what might have been.
As Wright explained to The Seattle Times, Peter Petrasek was born in Prague in the 1920s, in what was then Czechoslovakia. He was 12 years old when the Nazis invaded his country.
“From what he told me, all their property was confiscated,” Wright said. “The Germans hauled off his father to a camp.”
Deligerza told KIRO that she did not know much about his parents’ fate beyond that.
“He mentioned that they had passed away and we figured not in a good way,” she said. “They died in the war, he called it.”
Wright said Petrasek had told him he served, as a child, in some capacity, as a child soldier in the German air force, the Luftwaffe. He once told a story of being n a plane that was shot down and hiking into Switzerland, Wright told The Times.
Sometime after that, according to documents observed by The Times, Petrasek was designated a refugee and he eventually ended up in Canada where he met Joan, herself an Irish immigrant. They were married in 1951 in Ottawa, Ontario, and later moved to Seattle.
He worked as metallurgist at Bethlehem Steel, and she as a meat cutter and upholsterer.
Peter Winn, the assistant U.S. attorney who worked with Balkema to accept the money, said he figured Petrasek’s experience in Eastern Europe had a good deal to do with the decision to give his money back to the United States.
“There are still a lot of people in the world who would envy him the life he lived,” Winn told The Times. “He wanted to make a statement about how much it meant to him to be an American citizen.”