Fatal fire reveals tangled financial mess for family

Haruki Tokita (at left) and his children: Randall, Sandra & Karen (in white shirt)
Haruki Tokita (at left) and his children: Randall, Sandra & Karen (in white shirt)
Evan Tokita
Evan Tokita
Brent Tokita
Brent Tokita

PEARL CITY, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - It was already a tragedy when a house fire claimed the lives of 84-year-old Haruki Tokita and his 55-year-old daughter, Karen. But it was just the beginning of what has been a complicated nightmare for his remaining family members.

Tokita had two other children -- Sandra, 44, and Randall, 53. All three children are special needs adults.

"All those years he was basically supporting the kids by himself, with just a fixed income, basically," said Tokita's nephew, Evan Tokita, who said his uncle did not seek any outside assistance for the three children, even after his wife died in the mid 1990s.

"Our relatives tried to intercede and convince my uncle that maybe they do need to have some help to get them through life, and I think that he took that as an affront, maybe, and built up a wall," said Evan's brother, Brent Tokita.

It was a virtual wall so high that many relatives had no idea what Randall looked like until he was seen in news footage, pacing in front of his burning home. Evan and Brent said they also did not know where Sandra was being cared for. She was eventually located at a private facility.

It also meant that relatives didn't know that Haruki was running into financial difficulties in recent years, difficulties that came to light in the fire.

"Just before the fire, he forgot to pay his last insurance premium" for his home insurance, said Evan Tokita. "So the house burned, and there's no fire insurance for the children. Sop the kids are pretty much left with nothing."

Haruki Tokita had formed a trust fund for the children, but didn't give attorneys the full story. "My uncle never told them they were disabled. So what they did was they appointed the three kids as successor trustees," said Evan.

The two remaining children do not have the competency to make decisions on the fund or the property, said Evan, who works as a certified public accountant. He said that if the attorneys had been told about the children's disability, a special fund would have been set up for them.

Meanwhile, as the remaining family members have been trying to untangle the mess, the burned remains of the house are still standing on Apowale Street, nearly five months after the fire, because legally, they can't touch it.

"While all this is going on, we can't sell the property, we don't have any legal right to sell the property to pay off all these things or pay off the bills," said Evan.

Sandra and Randall are now being cared for in facilities, but those facilities can't be paid until the remaining family members have access to the trust fund. Those family members also haven't been able to bury Haruki and his daughter.

Tokita was a Korean War veteran, and can be buried without cost at Kaneohe Veterans Cemetery. "They allow a disabled dependent to be buried with the parent," said Evan. "But we have to prove she was disabled, and the problem is that everything burned in the fire." So there are no documents to show the Veterans Administration.

There has been some good news. Brent Tokita said a new guardianship agreement is being finalized for Randall, in which a private non-profit organization will take over. It also will allow the family to re-write the trust, which would finally allow them to demolish the home and sell the property. They've also now made plans to bury Haruki and Karen next month.

Brent Tokita said the whole ordeal has been an educational experience, and urges parents to make sure that they have everything in place for their children after they're gone.

"Even if you have family members who are there and loving and really want to help, legally our hands are tied, and it becomes very frustrating," he said. "Very frustrating for us."

While Medicaid will pay for Sandra and Randall's medical needs, the family said it has established a fund to help them pay for their other expenses. Starting Monday, the public can donate to the "Sandra and Randall Tokita Fund" at any Bank of Hawaii branch.

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