As the executor of my mother’s estate, I learned some things over the past couple of months I thought I’d share with you, should you ever find yourself in the same position or you are designating a family member to take care of your final affairs one day.
Even when you’re more than willing to assume the role, fulfilling its duties are more complex than you’d ever imagine. You simply don’t realize how much is involved, the hoops you have to jump through or the amount of time it takes to get everything handled.
After Mom passed, I quickly scribbled a list of things to take care of, about three pages of a legal pad as I recall. Those three pages quickly morphed into eight, as I dove into duties like arranging the disposition of her body, disbursing her belongings and cleaning her home, closing accounts and stopping ACH charges, writing her obit, transferring her car title and then selling her home.
In addition to these larger and more obvious responsibilities, there were smaller tasks on the list that also required attention: forwarding her mail, donating her eyeglasses to the Lions Club, making a donation to hospice, reporting her death to all of her doctors, returning her Life Alert and requesting refunds on insurance policies, shredding documents and canceling utilities.
I won’t bore you with everything, but my point is there’s a lot, and it’s all time consuming.
I kept copious notes on every phone call I made, including the name of the person I talked with, the dates, times and whatever instructions they gave me. Some of the most seemingly simple transactions turned out to be the most complex to handle.
Although Mom had a will naming me as executor and me and my siblings as beneficiaries, I was so grateful she additionally took the time to follow the advice of one of my friends who recommended we get what’s called a Lady Bird Deed. This document immediately established my sisters and I as owners of her home when she passed and enabled us to sell it without having to go through probate. (Mom’s estate wasn’t large enough to need a trust.)
I also was glad she had put my name on her various bank accounts, which made paying bills, disbursing funds and eventually closing them much easier. She trusted me enough to do that because she knew as long as she was alive, my role was custodial in nature.
We had discussed in advance specific items she wanted to give to family members and talked about other end-of-life wishes, including cremation and what to do with her ashes. Such conversations made everything go smoothly after she was gone. There were no arguments, no hard feelings…only gratitude.
Thankfully, Mother had no pets, so I didn’t have to deal with finding them a home or providing financial support for their care. That could have been a huge undertaking.
Many people, especially seniors whose pets outlive them, forget to address this in their wills, hoping a family member or friend will assume the responsibility.
But that doesn’t always happen. When there’s no one who can or is willing to step up, pets often end up in the care of animal services. But that’s a story or column for another time.
What I’m getting at is it’s important to know what you will be facing when you agree to handle a loved one’s final affairs. End-of-life conversations, while, uncomfortable for many, are essential in making more manageable a complex duty during a highly emotional time.
My mother’s willingness to have them put her mind at rest and helped me help her when she needed me most.
Lois Kindle is a freelance writer and columnist for The Observer News. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org/.