Jun 022013

I mentioned earlier that my trip up north was to visit relatives and family, all of whom are near or over 80 years old. Everyone appears to be in good health. There are signs of slowing down that you would expect at that age. Hearing loss, aches and pains, a cabinet full of drugs that the medical industry has convinced them is necessary. (A rant for another time). But overall, everyone is in good shape. Hell, they all still drive, which may or may not be a good thing. Nonetheless, while I was up there, the conversation eventually turned to things that a lot of people would rather not discuss…namely, their demise and what will happen to their estates.

It’s understandable that something like this may be uncomfortable for some people to talk about. We all would like to think we will live forever and be healthy and never die. Well, that’s what I am planning. I don’t know about any of you. I like it here and have decided to stay on. Anyways, we did discuss such matters while I was up there. As it is, I am executor of at least one estate, and named on one or two others that I know of. So if something happens to that person, it will be up to me to see to all the details there after. Funeral arrangements, burial, disposition of any leftover assets, all that will befall me. I was executor of another estate but I asked to be replaced by another family member who lived closer and could readily take care of such matters more better than I. It wasn’t that I wasn’t honored nor grateful to asked to accept such duties, it’s just that it’s going to be a bit more difficult with me being 1200 miles away as opposed to someone who lives but an hour away. Still, I will have a lot of things to take care of in the event of either person’s passing.

If you have never experienced the loss of a close family relative, one for whom you are more or less in charge of taking care of said relative’s last wishes and details, be forewarned that it is a lot of work. When somebody dies, that death becomes a business transaction. I know it sounds cold, but hear me out. When that person breathes their last, it begins a long and arduous journey to get what was left behind settled and into the hands of those whom the deceased wished it to go to. What makes it all so difficult is that you, as the executor, must deal with the estate, make the decisions, and see to the correct disposition of assets, all while dealing with the grief and loss of the loved one. In other words, you ain’t gonna be thinking too clearly, especially if the death was premature, accidental, or unexpected. Not that it in any way diminishes the grief or loss, but sometimes, if said loved one has died after a lengthy illness, and the death was pretty much expected, you may be able to handle things with a more clear state of mind. That happened to me a few years back. A relative died after a long fight with cancer. We knew when it would happen, or there abouts, and we were able to take care of things during the illness and after the death. Said relative had a will drawn up, made arrangements for transfer of assets, and even wrote his own obituary. Didn’t trust me to write it. Anyways, when his battle was over, we were able to take care of everything in due course, with a minimum of fuss and bother.

When somebody dies, there is a lot to be done. Funeral and burial arrangements need to be taken care of first of all. The relative mentioned above had the foresight to make all those arrangements years before the sickness came on. A simple burial, cremation and internment in a nice little crypt. Very inexpensive, maybe about $2000 for the whole procedure. The funeral director was on it and saw to everything. The funeral ceremony was also kept simple. A small gathering at a local church, a get together afterwards to talk memories and remember. It all happened so fast you don’t have time to really think about the loss. Your mind is racing about all the details. Obituaries in the papers, death certificates, (Tip: get as many as you think you will need and then some more up front. Getting more death certificates later is very expensive. We still have some left over but at least everything was covered). Afterwards is when the tough times begin. After everyone has left, you are suddenly alone in the house where the person was alive maybe a week or two ago, and now they are gone. The grief will start to set in, but this is when you need to stay sharp and maintain focus. For now, the process of disposing of assets begins. And look out, because everyone will have their hand out looking to grab whatever they can.

A will makes all the difference in the world when it comes to settling an estate. A well thought out, legal document, describing precisely what goes where and who gets what will go a long way in making your job as executor a lot easier. But beware, if said estate is large and there are multiple assets, there will be fights over who gets what, no matter what a piece of paper says. “He promised me this!”, or “I still own that.” will ring out from the same people who at the funeral were sobbing on your shoulder and pledging to help you with anything after the ceremony.

Families may react very differently when a central figure like a mother or father dies. When my grandfather on one side of the family died, it brought the whole clan that much closer together. Everyone pitched in to take care of my grandmother, and see to it the estate was properly taken care of. Even today, some 40 years on, the surviving members remain as close as can be. On the other side of the family, a very different story. When that grandfather died, there was nothing but bickering and fighting. Everyone was looking for the family treasure. Nobody seemed to care that my grandmother was totally devastated by the loss. She died of a broken heart three months later. Many of the family left, never to be seen nor heard from again. Very sad. So just beware that a death can have a very unexpected effect on some people. That sweet aunt who always smiled when she was visiting could easily turn into the wicked witch of the west once she thinks she can lay her grubby hands on grandma’s silverware. Be ready, be firm, and don’t be afraid to toss somebody out on their ass for being an ass. Your job is to see that the decease’s wishes are carried out.

Once the funeral is over with, and everyone has gone back to their own lives, you will have the unenviable task now of sorting through all the belongings of the deceased. This is going to be tough as memories will come back and cloud the mind. You may also find unusual things, good or bad that were left behind. But let’s start with the monetary assets.

When somebody dies, they will probably leave behind things like bank accounts, retirement accounts, debts, pensions, social security, and assorted bills. As executor it will be your job to close out or transfer said accounts, pay off debts, take care of the taxes, and stop the payments. This is extremely important, especially nowadays with automatic withdrawals and payments being the norm. Beware of the debts. Once a company knows that the person is dead, and that person owes money, they will demand immediate payment of all debts. This is especially true for things like car loans. They don’t care that it was your dear and sainted mother who died. They want their fucking money and right now. Be ready to deal with some cold, heartless, people. And be ready to either lose said asset if you can’t pay it off, or work to re arrange the debt into your name.

Sometimes provisions are made for the automatic transfer of some assets like pensions to a spouse. I ran into that when said relative died. There were arrangements for a sizable pension to continue on to the survivor. She wanted to wait and deal with it later rather than a week or two after the funeral, but I made her contact the pension company and take care of it. Otherwise, she could have lost out on that money. This is very important stuff and again, allowing the grief to interfere will cost you in the long run. You will have the rest of your life to deal with the loss of a loved one. Suck it up and take care of the assets or you may be suffering another kind of loss.

Physical property is next. Houses, condos, land, vehicles. Does the will make provisions to transfer such assets? You’ll be making trips to the property tax office, maybe the holder of the mortgage, and transferring deeds, titles, and other documents. In the case of the estate I am executor of, I will have 30 days to clear all property out of an apartment after said person dies. That means finding something to do with furniture, clothing, kitchen wares, and all the other trappings of life. While it’s not much time, it is more better than what I was looking at a few years ago, namely inheriting a house that I neither wanted nor had any intention of living in.

Then there is all the little stuff to be taken care of. Furniture, clothing, dishes, all those possessions that we acquired over our lifetime. Here is where the greed can set in. Relatives will fight to the death over who gets grandpa’s old pocket watch. Somebody may covet something else, simply because it has value to them. How you handle this is up to you. Unless the will has specified how those assets are to be distributed, you will be in charge. If you want to keep the peace, and that watch has no real value, give it to the whiny little shit. Otherwise, you will be faced with some choices. Keep stuff, sell it, give it away, throw it away. Stuff that has real value, jewelry perhaps, or that collection of NASCAR commemorative plates, do you want to keep them, or would the cash value make more sense? Sentimental value also comes into play here. You may want to hold onto something simply because of the memories it invokes. This sort of stuff can take a lot longer, sometimes years to eventually sort out. Depends on the size of the estate and how attached you are to something.

And now, in this day and age, there is another group of assets to deal with, namely, digital assets. Was the deceased online at all? Did they have accounts online? Facebook, eBay, and all the rest. Do you have passwords and login information to access these accounts and shut them down? This could be critical stuff. If they have set up automatic payments to be withdrawn from bank accounts, those payments will continue until somebody shuts them down, even if the bank account is closed. The bank may still make the payment and send you a bill. Phone accounts, wifi subscriptions, all that, will need to be closed down, otherwise it may get expensive.

And all of this, the disposition of assets, cleaning up the accounts, debts, and taxes, can all be delayed if the will is not considered a legal document. A will written down by hand on the back of a napkin ain’t gonna stand up in a court of law. If you haven’t, or if any of your loved ones haven’t yet, make sure that they go see a lawyer and draw up a proper legal will that will stand up in court and allow you to properly and quickly take care of the estate. Especially if the estate is sizable in nature and value. Otherwise you could lose it all.

One good thing I noticed is that all my relatives who are up there in age have been going through a slow, yet deliberate process of downsizing. They sold houses, moved into apartments, and got rid of a lot of stuff. They understand, mainly because some of them went through it, what a burden it can be to those left behind to settle an estate. Wills are made up, provisions are made for funeral arrangements, and things like that. I spent some time going over paperwork, where it is kept, contacts at banks and accounts, and such while I was up there. I also convinced some relatives to go over their bank assets and clean out all the dead accounts, consolidate other accounts, and simplify a few things. It makes it far easier on all concerned.

I know this all sounds sort of cold, dealing with death before death comes, but everyone benefits from planning like this….well, everyone except the person who dies. But you know what I mean. Imagine dealing with the death of a relative, and having no legal documents or proof that you are in charge of the estate. There could be a large financial issue at stake. Without the proper planning, settling things could take years. So, if you have relatives who are relying on you to handle things when they are gone, make sure, no matter how distasteful it may feel, to sit down with them and go over all the details. Make sure there is a will and other provisions set up so that when the time comes, you won’t be facing a huge legal and emotional swamp to wade through. And do the same for your own estate to help those who will be taking care of your assets. Death is tough enough to deal with. Nobody needs to be burdened with any more than is necessary to take care of things.

Capt. Fritter

One last tip: Keep your funeral simple and cheap. I had an uncle with an ego the size of Texas who made provisions for a grand funeral when he died. Fancy casket, expensive headstone, and it wound up costing his family well over $14,000 dollars. If you want to do everyone a favor, go with cremation and spreading of the ashes. Skip the cemetery, headstones, memorial plaques and all. Unless you are famous, or infamous, by the third generation, nobody is ever going to come visit your grave, remember who you are, or what kind of person you were. A simple cremation costs less than $2000. It’s better for the environment, and you ain’t gonna know the difference any ways. It will be easier on those who have to deal with all this and makes more sense all around.

And never, ever die around a major holiday. It really screws things up for the rest of us.


  4 Responses to “Preparing For The Inevitable…”

  1. Captain,

    Thanks for writing this. I too have family that is getting up there in age, and have been struggling with some guilt over our plans to move to the Keys this summer. My wife and I do a lot to help them out, and worry who will pick up the slack when we go.

    Thanks again, and looking forward to some more kayaking when we get down there!

    Dodd & Alanda

    • The possibility always exists that if somebody up north had a debilitating issue, disease, injury, or be unable to fend for themselves, I could easily sell everything, pack up and go north to see to their care for a while and still maintain my address and residence (at least on paper) down here. Sell the boat, or whatever I am living in, and pack up the cats and go. I could still do business online and make an occasion trip back if necessary. It’s one minor upside in that being minimal and not owning stuff makes me more mobile for just such an issue. Hopefully, nothing like that would occur but it does make me feel better knowing I can be up there if needed.
      C. F.

  2. Dave and I own little now with most of it (our two vehicles) being jointly owned and we have no debt. Most of our income is from sources that have beneficiaries. We also have only one child. Dave’s parents were cremated and their ashes placed in a river we all love so we would like to do the same. We’ve sent passwords to our daughter and Dave’s sister. We think we are OK without having wills. Are we nuts?

    • Even if it states the obvious, a simple will still might not be a bad idea. Just one more step to keep any government entity from sticking their grubby little claws into what ever is left of your estate.
      C. F.