All Her Earthly Treasures
This blog post has been brewing for a while. It’s one that’s not easy to write as it’s very personal, yet it feels like it needs to be shared.
My wish is to honor my Mom while taking time to learn from her life and her passing. I am still recovering from this very personal loss that comes with waves of grief and missing her. I cannot call her or wish her a happy Mother’s Day, yet her lessons and life live on in memories and in me.
I was struck by how quickly Mom’s home and belongings went from all her earthly treasures that provided her comfort, safety and joy…to liabilities or things that needed to be “dealt with” in some way. I’m not complaining, I am just being real with the tasks that loved ones have after one passes. Not many people write about this, that’s why I think this post needs to be shared.
If there is one big take away from my experience it is to “think backwards.” Take the time to explore how things will play out after you’re gone, then work your way back to make sure that ending will be how you wish for it to be. No, not many of us get to select how we leave this earthly plane, but as we age, we know we are getting closer to an exit at some point.
Ask your children and loved one’s if they want any of your treasures. You might be surprised how the next generation’s values are different and many, if not most items are not really something they want. But find out now. And then ask if you’d enjoy giving it to them now vs later…as a gift you get to see them receive and use vs never getting to share that experience of your gift. Listen to them, if they aren’t interested, be sure you hear that. All the artwork, report cards of your kids or your yearbooks, photos from trips you took alone several years ago, clothes you haven’t worn in many years…are likely not things others want to cart around for years to come.
Have a living trust and will drawn up. Yes, it costs more than you’d like. I even found notes from my Mom saying she couldn’t afford it, but then several years later, she did (thank God) have one drawn up. What does this do? It allows your beneficiaries to not have to go through probate. You may think “my stuff doesn’t add up to much, so it may not be worth it” or “I only have one child, so this should be a no brainer.” A living will can be drawn up for about $1,500. I’d personally recommend using a lawyer to do this as they can consider and personalize the trust and/or will to cover all angles. I have not done the online type of living trust or will, so I welcome input in the comments below from those who have used online software to create one, and particularly if you saw how that played out for those left behind. During probate, lawyers and banks will have to decide how to split assets and they will deplete way more than the $1,500 it costs to set up a trust…so don’t put it off!
Get the Trust listed on documents such as your home, car, bank accounts or other key assets. Why you might ask? Having the trust listed on your home and accounts or car allows direct transfer vs waiting your state mandated time to make that transfer. In California the time is 40 days. In Oregon the time is 90 days. Bank accounts will be frozen for that same period of time, so beneficiaries would not have any assets to pay for funeral and burial costs until the mandated wait period is over. If you have a vehicle and the trust is not listed, your car can’t be transferred for that period of time and whoever is handling the financial affairs will need to continue to insure it and coverage can be a little iffy. You may wish to sell the vehicle, and then you’d have to wait the time to be able to do this. This is another place to consult an attorney about, as reasons for listing (or not listing) the trust on your home, car and accounts can vary.
Make your wishes for burial and funeral known. Even if you did nothing else…this step will be a tremendous help to those left behind who must make several decisions within days to weeks. Do you want to be buried or cremated? Where do you want your body buried or ashes to be placed? Do you have pre-arrangements made or not? All of these help family during those tough days after you’re gone. Within an hour of my Mom’s passing they wanted to know what mortuary to use. We knew she had a book with all her wishes in it, but the book wasn’t where she told us it would be. To this day we don’t know if Mom had misplaced the book as she started a new one. I found the old book just prior to our meeting with the pastor but I had to get down on my hands and knees to see it against a wall behind some furniture. Her new book only had the first three pages out of about thirty filled out. So we were left guessing about the cremation vs burial piece. That was very stressful! So avoid the guessing by talking about your wishes and writing them out and sharing that with your loved ones!
Do not count on life insurance to pay for your burial (or at least not in real-time). Life insurance can take up to 90 days or so to pay out, so check what your turn around time is and put that into your plan. It’s also a good practice to make sure your life insurance beneficiaries are accurate at the beginning of each year.
Have a list of all of your income and bills that you pay. You could do this by saving one copy of each pay stub, deposit or bill. You could also make a master list, just know it needs to be updated. For us it went from Mom independently paying all her bills to me needing to take over without any warning. We found surprises in both the assets and liabilities end of things over time, but it would have been nice to have a list to go by. One cannot see online bills going to an email they can’t get into. If you have multiple accounts, is it time to simplify them perhaps?
If you are active on social media, consider sharing passwords or setting up Legacy options on Facebook. I’ve been able to cancel Mom’s Facebook, but that didn’t cancel her Messenger account, so her Facebook profile is still out there. I will figure out how to do this in the days to come, but the legacy option would help avoid all the loop holes. Think about email accounts, blogs, all forms of social media…if your loved ones don’t know your password, these companies go out of their way to protect your privacy and often won’t let someone else cancel on your behalf.
Cancel the phone number, internet and cable for the deceased as soon as is reasonable and do so from that actual phone number if you can. Do not get me started on AT&T! I spent five hours, wrote three letters, made more than 12 calls, consulted our lawyer twice and visited three AT&T stores and all just to manage a simple disconnect of phone and internet. If I could have done that sooner and from Mom’s actual phone, I believe that may have avoided some of the angst. When I didn’t have Mom’s pin, they wanted me to guess her favorite actor…I did my best, but without luck. They then sent me to stores who were rude and could not help me and never apologized. I was grateful I was not deep into my grief phases then, but it was absolutely ridiculous what they put me through.
Cancel the paper as this is one sure way for others to notice the house is not inhabited and may make you subject to criminals. We waited until after Mom’s memorial and estate sale announcement was in the paper to cancel it. This allowed us to see what got published. We were crazy enough to do the memorial one week after Mom passed and the estate sale two weeks later. We were at the house daily during this time, so the paper was picked up daily.
Date any key documents that have information about your wishes, accounts, passwords, etc. I found passwords that may have been from 2004…which likely were changed a time or two in the fourteen years since they were written down. People may also end up with more than one Advance Directive so signatures and dates help keep it clear which one is the most recent.
Some states require that the Advance Directive states who can make decisions about care of the body after death. If that is not on your forms, then all direct family members or beneficiaries may need to sign a consent to the care decided upon. Pre-arrangements with a local mortuary would also be a way to handle this. My friend who has lived with her boyfriend for twenty years, just had her boyfriend die. And while my friend is the sole beneficiary, she did not have any rights on final care of the body…his estranged sister, who was estranged for a reason and upset to not be named in the will and trust, was in charge of his remains.
Death. No one wants to talk about it. We actually live our lives as if we might escape this one final step. But one thing is certain, we all will exit this life at some point. Take the time to plan your exit, so that it might be as graceful as your birth and life. My hope is this post has given you some things to consider. Four months ago, I knew none of this stuff. I hope my hard lessons might assist you in being more prepared.
Please post your questions below. I hope to write more on this topic and will do my best to answer your questions.