Death is coming

Death is coming and it’s grim but you have to prepare

My aunts, my cousins, and my sister making rolls for my grandmother’s funeral.

Mr T’s parents died six years ago.

They made him executor.

The estate still isn’t settled.

Part of it is – and Mr T will admit this – procrastination.

But a lot of it is because his parents left a mess and it takes a long time to clean up an estate that’s been left in disarray.

I beg all of you to get your affairs in order. You are going to die. Either you take care of things or your heirs are stuck doing it for you – and it’s a jerk thing to do to leave all that work for someone else.

No, I don’t care if your parents did it to you. That doesn’t mean you should do it to your kids.

(Not that anyone reading this would be like that, but I have seen such sentiments expressed in other places. “Why should I bother? I was stuck dealing with my parents’ mess. My kids will have to deal with mine.” Don’t be that person. I know you’re not.)

My mom and I have spent hours going through her records and files. I have met with her financial advisor. I have her passwords. I have current copies of her will and long-term care policy and a key to her safe deposit box. I know where she wants to be buried and have her permission to have her cremated so it’s easier to get her remains from Colorado, where she lives, to Wisconsin, where the cemetery is. (My dad is already buried in the cemetery in their hometown and she will be next to him.)

When Mr T’s parents died, he had to hunt down records. He didn’t know if they had a safe deposit box. They had not updated their will to account for the special needs of one of their grandchildren.

Here are things you should do to make life easier for your kids (or for your spouse – Mr T’s parents died within six weeks of each other, so it was a bit of a special case) or for whomever settles your estate:

  • Have a will. I know. It seems so obvious. But there are people with minor children who do not have a will. Do you really want the courts deciding where your kids go?
  • And of course it should go without saying that if you have minor children, you have life insurance. Right? Right? I am preaching to the choir here?
  • Medical and financial powers of attorney. Designate them.
  • Living will. What do you want done and not done medically? Please do not put this decision on your children. Please.
  • Give a copy of the will to your executor. (Better yet, designate a lawyer as your executor – being an executor is a royal pain in the neck and why would you dump that on your kids?)
  • Have clearly marked files with all your financial information: mortgage, deed, bills, bank accounts, car titles, safe deposit boxes. The car title does not – and I cannot say this loudly enough – belong in a manila folder on the top shelf of the guest room closet.
  • A list of accounts and passwords. What are the passwords to your online accounts? Social security numbers?
  • If you are married, make sure your spouse is the co-owner of everything with you. Make sure your spouse is the beneficiary of your IRA and 401k.
  • What’s the plan for your pets? No, it’s not an option for your kids to take them. Figure out where your pets should go and put it in writing so your executor knows. Mr T spent months trying to re-home his parents’ cats.
  • It would be a huge kindness for your to make your wishes known with respect to your remains. Burial? Cremation? The Body Farm? Put it in writing and – yeah, I know this is going way out there – make the arrangements. Buy the plot. Decide what you want on the headstone. Pre-pay the funeral home. It’s awful enough to deal with the death of a loved one, but having to figure out and arrange a funeral on top of that? Give that gift to your spouse/children/whoever.
  • Don’t make promises to your kids that you’re not going to keep. Don’t write a letter to one kid promising a certain amount of money and then not put it in the will. Don’t suggest to another kid – the executor – that maybe you should let him decide how the money is divided between him and his two siblings. That is, unless you want to be sure that your children hate each other forever.
  • Clean your house. Throw away the junk you don’t use. If you have moved to Florida, take your winter clothes to Goodwill. You don’t need a heavy winter coat anymore.
  • Keep your bills current. Don’t keep a box with eight years’ worth of Medicare EOBs mixed with regular and junk mail. Don’t force your executor to go through all those papers looking for unpaid bills. The estate cannot be closed until all the bills are paid.

As you might guess, Mr T and I have learned all these rules through experience.

We have also learned these important things through experience:

  • If you have any nekkid photos or equipment, please figure out how to have someone who is not your child get rid of them. Your kids do not want to see you – nekkid.
  • If you disinherit someone, it’s considered tacky to make that person the executor. Just. Saying.
  • Again. Nobody wants to see your home porn. Especially not your kids.
  • If you are one of the heirs and tell the executor that you were promised some special yet unable to be defined jewelry and the executor tears the house apart looking for it and finally just sends you all the jewelry in the house, it’s probably not good form to imply that the executor is keeping the Good Jewelry for himself and you know this because you took the jewelry he sent you to an appraiser, who told you it was all costume jewelry.
  • Again as an heir – expecting the estate to reimburse you in cash for the frequent flier miles you used to attend the funeral is a little bit extra.

5 thoughts on “Death is coming

  1. Good gravy, yes. All of this. My mom lives with me. I have her passwords and a copy of her will, and am a signer on her bank accounts (so I can go clean them out within minutes of her death).

    BUT… she has so much crap. Even after paring things down when moving from her 2-story, 4-bedroom house to my much smaller 1-story, 3-bedroom house, there is still So Much Stuff. She paid to have a Tuff Shed built in my backyard to store the Stuff that won’t fit inside of my house. It has all been there, for 13 years now, completely untouched.

    She has boxes of *old mail* in that shed. Hell, she has boxes of old mail in her bedroom. The stack of boxes gets taller and wider with every passing year.

    My plan for when she dies: Drain the bank accounts, rent a dumpster, pay a couple of neighborhood teenagers to haul everything from the shed and the bedroom into the dumpster. The end.

    Also, I can’t believe it has been SIX years since your in-laws died. I remember your stories about them on AAM and your old blog.


    1. Oh man that’s so hard! Especially when you know that so much of it could be resolved now. But I like your plan. 🙂

      Yeah, I can’t believe it’s been six years, either! I thought we would be done with all that drama by now, but they keep coming back from the grave to haunt us. (They do much of the haunting via Mr T’s brother, who is carrying on the family tradition of making him – and me – miserable with his jerkiness.)


  2. Serendipity strikes again! After reading your well-phrased recommendations this morning, I received a call from an old friend who is facing potentially dire medical issues and who is, of course, without will or trust and probably needs both. She is in touch with an attorney but time is of the essence. I copied your thoughtful, experience-gained advice and sent it to her, in hope that she will read it when she gets home from the hospital today and it will provide a guideline for her immediate future. Thank you, thank you, thank you.


  3. Mom died in March and I’m still dealing with the estate, even though she had everything set up and organized. Literally the ONLY thing that would have needed probate filing was a single, $50 EE Savings Bond currently worth about $75; filing probate would have been $100 so it’s a wall hanging now.

    The big holdup has been medical bills. They Just. Keep. Trickling. In. Everything else is done, I’m just waiting for the last bills I know are out there to show up at her house so my brother can send them to me, halfway across the country, to pay.


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