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Put Your House in Order

by Rundy on October 13, 2009

One thing Grandpa’s death has brought forcefully to my attention is the huge legal hassle that comes with dying. You’d hope (or wish) that since dying is such an unpleasant business everyone would have mercy on your survivors and expect nothing from them in this difficult time. Sadly, that is not the case. The death of a loved one can present someone with possibly the most difficult legal and financial situation they will ever face in their life. That is not something looked forward to in the best of circumstances, and can seem incredibly overwhelming in the midst of grief.

So long as we have earthly possessions this cannot be entirely avoided, but there are steps that can be taken to make the trouble after the time of death less difficult. I am sure I am not the first to tell you this, but I will repeat it: Make a will. Have mercy on your survivors, please, and make a will. If you are caring for someone else, check to see if they have a will in place. If not, see if one can be made. I am sure there are many other legal related things that can be done, which a consultation with a lawyer or other expert (or a lot of research on your own part) could make you aware of, and save other people a lot of work down the road. Some things to consider are: Whose name is on any property owned? Whose name is on stocks and bonds? Who are the beneficiaries of any insurance policies?

Grandpa had very little that was in his name alone, and he had a simple and straight-forward will in place, so dealing with the legal and financial issues after his death has been (so far) a relatively straight-forward process. The emphasis is on relatively. We still had to go through probate, and the forms for the process (like all bureaucratic forms) were not clear and easily intelligible. As something of a collective family effort we managed to get the forms filed without the involvement of a lawyer (but with some very nice help from the staff and clerk at the probate court). On the death of a loved one, most people are not up to untangling the intricacies of this process and simply hand the entire matter over to a lawyer. Having been through the process, I can sympathize.

Beyond making sure all the proper legal documents are in place before your death, or the death of a loved one in your care, it is also a very good idea to familiarize yourself with all the steps that will need to be taken in the event of the death. Who will need to be notified? What will need to be done? The list can be distressingly long, and it is easy to forget things when the upsetting event of death actually comes. Social Security, Pension, Insurance Policies . . . who else? What kind of paperwork will you need to file with these various organizations? Where is the birth certificate? Death certificate? Marriage license? Insurance policies? Financial records? If it is your death you are preparing for, make up a list of who will need to be contacted and where the needed paperwork is located and make sure the person taking care of your estate knows where that list is located. If you are preparing for the death of someone in your care, make sure you know who needs to be contacted, and where the information is located. Nobody wants to be left tearing apart the house looking for who-knows-what and who-knows-where after someone has died.

When Grandpa died one of my uncles determined all of the organizations that needed to be contacted, and did so promptly. Grandma had all the paperwork filed away, but we had to do more than enough sorting, trying to find exactly what we needed, determining what policy was the correct one, and what phone number we were supposed to call, and so on. It could have been a lot worse, but it also could have been better.

It can seem morbid to deal with this sort of thing in advance, but it isn’t. It is wise. We will all die, and we don’t know the day, so the wise will prepare in advance. Yes, it is unpleasant but those who must deal with it later will thank you. It is one good thing you can leave behind. So remember, put your house in order.

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Annie October 21, 2009 at 8:35 pm

wise advice indeed..advice I should really take to heart right now, as I am planning another NY trip to my little family there!

and I am sorry to hear of your Grandpa’s death, albeit, as is frequently said, it is a blessing when they are old and infirm, and also have alzheimers as your grandad did. There are still mixed feelings when it happens, especially for those close to them.

I have only just stumbled across your website again. (I commented a few times along the way at some stage..last year perhaps). I bought a new laptop at the beginning of the year, (as this old blunderbuss downstairs was so slow) and not all my favorites were transferred across. I have only just found your site from an old email I sent to my sister…(I thought she may have been interested at the time).

So I must keep reading to see how you are…and what you plan to do. It must be a strange time in your life after all the time you helped to care for him. I hope you are not feeling as if you have to rush into decsions. I was always mightily impressed with your deciding to live with your Grandpa. There are not many who would do that these days, and indeed on further reading, I may hear that you all may have needed to take other options perhaps later on his life.

Regards. Annie from “down under”

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