It’s Something Almost All Of Us Go Through…

Ok, no island pictures, no political rants this time.  We are gonna talk about something which almost all of us has had to face at one time, the death of a loved one.  This is a long post so please be patient and take some time to read it through.  Lots of important stuff here.

I got word today from a friend who found out their parent is dying.  Inoperable cancer was discovered and said parent has not much time left.  Said friend asked for any advice and support from anyone who might be listening so, having been there, and done same, I chipped in.  It dawned on me how many people are actually unprepared for the death of a loved one, be it parent, sibling, spouse, or child.  And how much work is involved in dealing not only with the death itself, but all the associated events following, such as funerals, wills, and closing out estates.  So, in hoping to help said friend, and anyone else out there who may be dealing with a similar circumstance, I will be putting in my double pennies and explaining my viewpoints based on my experience with losing a parent.  I’m going to sound a bit cold and callous about some things but I will ‘splain why it’s necessary because emotions and grief can cloud the mind when clarity and focus of thought are vitally important.  So, let’s get on with it.

I lost my father to cancer in the early part of this century.  I was in Pa. visiting my parents for the holidays when I noticed the old man was not looking too good.  My Mom didn’t notice as she was around him all the time.  But I could see he was not well.  I told her about it and she shrugged it off but after I went back to Florida she took Dad to the doctor.  I got the call about a week later.  Lung cancer, inoperable, and spreading fast thanks to years of smoking and poor health choices.  He would not live to the end of the year.

After the initial shock things got down to basics.  In Pa., the medical industry rules and it was not too long before my father was set up for chemo and other treatments.  His initial prognosis was 9 to 10 months.  With treatments maybe a bit longer.  I, not being a fan of the medical industry, did not favor subjecting him to the poisons and other medieval treatments he was about to undergo, but it was his decision to go with it, not mine.  For the rest of the year I made monthly trips back and forth from Florida to Pa. to check his progress and be there for comfort and support.  Whilst there we also talked about what he wanted to do for a funeral, checked the will over to make sure things were all set, and talked about what to do afterwards.  To his credit, his main concern was my Mother being properly taken care of after he was gone.  He made arrangements for his pension to go to her, made sure I was to watch her spending.  (She loves to shop), and to make sure nothing was burdening her after he was gone.

During this time period he had good and bad bouts.  Sometimes he was cheerful and upbeat, other times, he would cry and be depressed.  At one point towards the end, he was sick of the pain from the suffering and threatened to shoot himself.  A next door neighbor who had been suffering from Lou Gehrig disease, decided to end it all by putting a bullet in his head, so I knew where he was getting the idea.  I told the old man straight up, if he did commit suicide two things were going to happen.  One, Mom would not be able to claim the insurance money from his death.  And B, there would be no funeral.  I would have him cremated and throw his ashes in a junk yard.  I wouldn’t of course but it stopped the suicide talk.  Nonetheless, I removed all the guns and ammo from the house.

All in all, he took his last few months well.  He died quietly in his own house, in his own bed, with Mom at his side.  I was on my way but only made it as far as North Carolina when I got the news.

The next month was a whirlwind of activity.  Funeral, reading of the will, transfer of assets, and a myriad of other details one does not think of until they crop their ugly head.  All needing taking care of whilst in the midst of grieving for the departed.  This was where the old man really came through.

My Dad died at the rather young age of 72.  It seems young now since I am only 9 years away, but he did have the foresight to plan for the inevitable.  My parents bought a little spot in a wall in mausoleum where their cremated remains would rest.   A nice little place not far from where they were born and just a few yards from my grandparents graves.  He had a will drawn up so all assets would go to Mom, or me if she wasn’t around, and arranged his pension to continue on to her.  It was all very well thought out.  There wasn’t a massive fortune involved but there were enough assets to be important enough to the care of and to this day makes the difference in how well my Mother lives.

The funeral itself was a simple affair.  Cremation, a small ceremony at a local church, a few people got up and spoke about their memories of him, then a nice dinner afterwards with his surviving siblings.  He even wrote his own obituary not trusting me nor anyone else to write it.  He had gone to school with the funeral director and they were good friends, so the whole process went very smoothly.  The one good thing, even though it was a funeral, was the cost…$1250 for everything.

Compare this with one of my uncles, who before he died, picked out an ornate casket, had a grand funeral with military honors, and set his family back $14,000.  Not sure if the pope showed up or not.  It seems ridiculous to spend so much but it’s what he wanted.  Never saw it but I suspect he got some grand concrete monument to mark his grave.

Here is a cold hard fact you might want to consider when it comes to graves and markers.  Chances are pretty good, unless you are famous, by the third generation after you are gone, nobody is going to come and view your grave.  You will be forgotten to history.

During my last trip to Pa. I got to go visit my grandparents grave on the other side of the family and there beside them was their parents, my great grandparents.  It was quite the experience, but I realized, after my generation is gone, probably nobody will come there again to visit.  (Cool note:  My great grandfather was born exactly 100 years before me).

The point is, why spend the money on something you want to leave as evidence you existed on this planet when in a few decades nobody will be around to even care?  It’s wasteful and puts a burden on those you do leave behind.

My mother who is a very spry 83 and will probably out live me, has the same set up as the old man.  And she has the money set aside to pay for said services.  She and I also sat down and thrashed out what to do after she is gone.

I have somewhat an advantage over a lot of people in I have no brothers nor sisters.  Nobody else will be there at the reading of a will with their hand out, except for the government of course.  So everything which would happen if she passes will do so smoothly.  I am already a co member of her bank account.  I have all the necessary contact information for closing out accounts, and what to do with all the property.  It’s pretty cut and dried because we took the time to set things up before something happens.  We are not talking very much money, but there are still assets to be taken care of, disposed of, or otherwise dealt with.  It’s important to have as few obstacles in the way as possible.  All it takes is some minor mistake or forgetting to dot a T or cross an I, and said estate could be in limbo for years, costing you money, time, and emotional distress.  Having the foresight to plan ahead as my parents have done makes things way more better.

Here is the thing.  When someone dies, it becomes a very complicated business transaction.  All the little details I mention above and lots more I have not mentioned will surface at precisely the most inopportune time.  You, as executor of the estate, as the survivor, will have to deal with all this whilst under extreme emotional duress.  Someone very close to you has died.  You are grieving, distraught, in mourning and now you have all these financial obligations to deal with.  If you have siblings or others involved, it can be good or it can make things worse.  Nothing like fighting tooth and nail in front grandma’s casket because you are arguing over who gets possession of her favorite paring knife.  I’ve seen it happen and it’s not pretty.  It tore one side of my family apart when my grandfather died.  All over petty shit.  Then there is all the legal stuff.  Corporations, pensions, government, taxes.  It is vitally important to maintain a clear head and focus on what needs to be done then and there or it will cost you later.  Take care of the details now.  You have the rest of your life to grieve.

So here are some tips I picked up from my experiences with the passing of a close loved one.  Feel free to add in yours in the comments:

If you are planning what to do following your demise, it’s never to early to start.  No matter what your age, it don’t hurt to now and then take a look at what you have, what you want done with it when you are gone, what you want done with your body, and who will take care of all of it.  Once you have these details sorted out, sit down with those who will be responsible and thrash things out.  Try and cover all the little details as much as possible no matter how cold or distant it may seem.  Disposition of your body is real and you need to face up to what you want done.  Burial?  Cremation?  Donation to science?  Stuffed and put on display in a bar?  These are your decisions and you need to face them.

Make sure the person or persons responsible know exactly what you want done.  Write it down, have the document signed and notarized, and update it if needed.  But keep this in mind.  Will the cost of disposing your rotting corpse be a burden to those who must take care of it?  Will there be sufficient funds to build a pyramid to your memory, or will your ashes get tossed out of the window of a car whilst speeding down I-95?  Be pragmatic about this.  Don’t wipe out your estate or your heirs just for a couple hours of people wailing and sobbing over your casket.  Funerals cost money.

Review all your income sources and see what will need to be done to reconcile them.  Auto payments like pensions and social security may need to stop.  Other things like income from businesses, royalties, stocks, or other investments will need to be addressed.  Will they continue?  Who will they go to?

I mentioned I was on my mother’s bank account.  It’s not a bad thing to do if you have someone you can trust.  Make them a co member so when you are gone, they will full access to the funds and can properly take care of them.

Do you have assets you want to leave in a will to your heirs?  Get said heirs together and ask who wants what?  Then sit back and watch the claws come out.  But seriously, find out while you are alive who wants what or who gets what.  In fact, if you are at a point where you are no longer using said assets, give them away now rather than let everyone fight over the spoils after you are gone.  It’s just stuff but you would be surprised how some people value things or look at the death of someone as a chance to grab a bunch of goodies.  Greed always out weighs grief.

Even if your estate is not very big and you don’t have much, there will still be things which will need to be taken care of.  The time to determine the who, what, and how said things will be taken care of is before you die, not after.

If you are the one who will be responsible for taking care of the person doing the dying, you will have much to do when the time comes.  Preparation and knowledge ahead of time can make a world of difference.  And remember, you’ll be doing all this under duress and emotion distress.  Keep a clear mind and focus on what needs to be done.

Talk to the person you will be responsible for.  Sometimes they may not want to talk about the inevitable but it has to be done.  Be tactful, but determined.  ‘Splain to them the hardships you and others will face when they are gone.  Be firm and upfront about what they want to do but be sympathetic.  Some people don’t like to talk about the realities of their demise.  Be it fear, ignorance, or just denial, it needs to be addressed, but if they are adamant about not discussing what needs to be done, don’t be afraid to walk away and let somebody else handle it.

Assuming the soon to be deceased is cooperative, leave no stone unturned.  Cover all the little details no matter how mundane they may seem.  For one, it will make things more better for you in settling things, and for another, it will take their mind off the whole death and dying thing, if not for a brief moment.

If something is unclear, get it cleared.  Because once they are gone, there is no more communication.  My old man told me to, ‘look everywhere’ in regards to having money hid around the house.  I asked for more details and just got a smile.  To this day I wonder how many millions I left in the pockets of his suits or buried in the backyard.  Settling an estate should not be a game nor a puzzle.  It can have a profound effect on those left behind to clean up the mess and being elusive about where assets may or may not be does not help.

If you are not comfortable with the final wishes of the person doing said final wishes, say so.  If the cost of the funeral is going to set you back financially, talk to them about paring things down.  Offer cheaper alternatives if possible.  In the end it’s what they want but being realistic costs less.

After they have passed on things are going to happen fast.  You will need, more than ever, to be of sound mind and in control.  People will be coming out of the woodwork, to offer condolences, bring food, boy do they bring food, sometimes to offer genuine help, sometimes to see what they can steal, or is some cases to impose their religious beliefs upon you.

Being a hardcore atheist and with no belief in the afterlife (no proof), I despise how religion uses the death of someone to recruit and spread their little cults.  Nothing more disgusting than sitting at a funeral service which is to remember somebody, than to have some bible thumper stand up and demand everyone come to jebus or whatever little fake deity they are selling.  It’s not the time nor the place for such things.  It’s insulting and inappropriate to the deceased and survivors.  It’s as out of place as me placing an ad for my books for sale on Amazon on this post.  (Get the complete set.)  I just won’t do it.

But not everyone is as smart as an atheist.  If religion is a part of your service, try to keep it in perspective.  A funeral is to remember the deceased, not sell bullshit.

Once the service is over, the real work begins.  If you are able, when planning the funeral, one of the things you will need is death certificates.  Lots of them.  You’ll need death certificates to prove to just about anyone and anything the deceased has deceased.  You’ll need them to close accounts, redirect funds, settle debts, and more.  Think about how many you may need and get more.  Why?  Because if you have to get death certificates later, they will cost way more money.  Better to have more than what you need to start.  You never know when you might need one later.

Obituaries are another expensive item, especially if they are going into a print newspaper.  Many funeral homes now have online memorial pages for the deceased with the obituary in digital form, a place to leave comments, and sometimes a place to donate.  If they are available, take advantage of them.  You’ll reach more people and the page stays up for a long time.

Flowers are nice to see at a funeral but in the end, it’s kinda wasteful.  If possible, find out if the person you are planning with has a favorite charity or cause.  Then in lieu of flowers, have mourners donate to said charity or cause.  It’s a way more practical and meaningful way to express condolences.

In terms of the will and estates, when in doubt, find an estate lawyer to help you muddle through everything.  If you have done all the work I described above, there may not be much left to worry about.  But a will may require probate.  It could take a while or if you have taken care of all the details, may clear in a short time.  Be prepared to answer questions and have documentation at the ready to prove said will’s validity.

One of the more tricky things you may have to deal with is turning off auto payments and auto bill paying.  Corporations don’t care if somebody dies as long as they still get paid every month.  Be prepared to spend an inordinate amount of time on the phone screaming at customer support, mailing death certificates, and making veiled threats to get companies to stop billing the deceased.  If you don’t get them to stop, the billing will continue, even if you have closed the bank account.  This will be one of the more frustrating things you will have to deal with.

Don’t fiddle fuck around in getting things taken care of either.  Time costs money.  When my father died and my mother had to deal with changing the pension to her name, she wanted to wait a few months to do it.  I refused to let her wait and we got it done within a week of the funeral.  This is real money and as I said, while not a lot, has made a difference in her quality of life.  Imagine waiting until later and finding it’s too late to make the change.  Again, take the time to talk with the soon to be deceased before hand to make sure all these little details are covered.

Finally, yes, I know, longer post than usual but this shit is important, there is a relatively new matter which must be addressed when someone dies.  What about their online presence?

Facebook, Twitter, email accounts, and a myriad other online places are now in play.  Even my 93 year old aunt is on a bunch of social media accounts.  Not to mention other places like e-commerce sites, PayPal, and other sites.  All these are protected by passcodes, maybe more.  So now what?  Some of these may be billing for services, others are just there and will keep on going unless somebody comes in and deactivates or shuts the accounts down.

A lot has been written about what happens to your online accounts after you die.  It can be a very confusing and difficult process.  Facebook has options to turn an account into a memorial site, while other sites have options to close accounts, but it’s a long and drawn out process.  (Remember those death certificates?  You are going to need them).  The thing is you need to treat your online presence as you would your other assets.  While they may not have any real monetary value, they do contain important information about you.  Your contact information, most likely a link to a credit card, photos, friends.  If possible keep a list of your online accounts along with login and passcode information someplace secure and accessible to someone you can trust who will see to the proper disposition of said accounts.  A mistake here could wind up costing your estate money or having your identity live on after you are gone for more nefarious means.

So, you are probably wondering by now, if you are still reading this, what about the Capt.?  What have I done to take care of my vast empire when I go to the great beyond?  Well, none of the above.

I am sorry to say I have no will, no written explanation of what I want done with my body (cremation and dump the ashes overboard off Mallory Square at sunset will do nicely.), nor have I provided anyone with access to my online accounts.  Other than my mother, I have no heirs.  A few aunts and an uncle along with some distant cousins I see once every 5 years or so.  Beyond them, no one.  I don’t have an estate worth anything but I have no doubts the moment I die my ebooks will become instant classics making somebody wealthy, but otherwise, nothing to speak of.  When I go, I will leave a small mess for someone to try and clean up, if they are so inclined.  The websites would stay up until the hosting is no longer paid for.  The ebooks would remain online.  Physically, all I have are some clothes, the laptop, and iPhone.

Perhaps one of these days I’ll get off my fat ass and make out some sort of plan to dispose of everything properly.  Or I may just run up thousands in debt spending it all on hookers and rum, and let the government sort it all out.  You know, live long enough to be burden to everyone, even more than I am now.

Or I may just not go.  I kinda like it here and maybe I won’t bother dying at least not for awhile.  So far, so good.

Capt. Fritter

Seriously, please feel free to add to the conversation in the comments.  I am sure I forget lots of stuff on here but I tried to cover as much as possible.  I apologize for the length but as you see, there is lots to talk about here.  Death is something we all will have to deal with in some fashion.  Hope this helps some of you even a little bit.