Whether you have planned for the inevitable or not, the reality of dealing with all the details associated with a loved one’s death is often more than we expect. Having an ally who understands the legal, practical and emotional aspects of this unique situation, can make a huge difference.
Every situation is different, however; the four scenarios below illustrate what can happen and how I can help.
Mary and John
Mary and John were married for fifty years, when John passed away. Although Mary and John created an estate plan together, John had taken care of most of the finances during their marriage and Mary didn’t know how to access all of their accounts or locate important estate information. Mary was working with an attorney who specialized in trust administration, but the process was still confusing and frustrating for her. Some days her grief and loneliness were all she could deal with and she worried about deadlines and paperwork falling through the cracks. Eventually, she had to deal with all of John’s personal items too; deciding what to keep, what to give to family and what to donate was overwhelming. On top of all this, Mary had to consider that it might be time for her to move to a retirement or assisted living facility. Their children wanted to help but didn’t live nearby and had children and jobs that they couldn’t leave. Having an ally to guide Mary through the process helped her concentrate on the overall picture and not sweat the small stuff quite as much.
Susan lived in Boston. Her mother had died several years before, and her father, who lived in California, had recently passed away. Susan was the oldest of three siblings and she was named the trustee of her father’s estate. Her father’s estate was relatively small but she found the tasks associated with the estate administration to be time consuming and emotionally exhausting on top of her own demanding life. Neither of her siblings had lived near their father, nor were they able to provide a lot of help. Susan needed hands on help. She needed someone to deliver important paperwork to the attorney and accountant; she needed someone to set up an appraisal of her father’s house and to be at the house when the time came. She needed an ally to coordinate with the moving and storage company and someone to oversee the estate sale and donation of items.
Brandon and Chris
Brandon and Chris were a young married couple with two small children and no estate plan. Chris died unexpectedly and Brandon was completely blindsided with grief. Chris had his own business and a lot of assets and complicated family relationships. Brandon was, of course, unprepared to deal with all of this and really needed to focus as much as possible on their two children. Brandon needed an ally in many areas; from prioritizing and delegating tasks, planning the funeral, notifying business associates and communicating with Chris’ family to organizing child care and meals, and connecting him with a grief counselor.
Ellen is a single woman with two adult children. She knows that she should have an estate plan but she keeps putting it off because it seems daunting to her. She has a modest estate, including a home, IRA, savings account and life insurance policy. Some of her asset information is in her filing cabinet, some on her computer, some in safe deposit box and some in her head! She has nothing in writing about her end of life wishes, such as who should make health care decisions for her, what kind of intervention she wants or whether she wants to be cremated or buried. Ellen has a Durable Power of Attorney that was executed many years ago, with her now ex-husband, named as her agent. She doesn’t want to leave a mess for her children if she becomes incapacitated or when she dies, but she doesn’t know where to start. Ellen should consult an experienced estate planning attorney to draft her documents, but getting your affairs in order doesn’t stop there. Ellen could benefit from the extra support of an estate organizer to complete this sometimes overwhelming process. An estate organizer can be her ally in locating the information she will need to bring to her attorney, including account numbers, beneficiary names, successor trustees and health care agents. Once her documents are finalized an ally can help ensure that everything related to Ellen’s estate is organized in one place (whether on her computer or in a binder). This way her loved ones know where to find everything associated with her estate so they have a road map to follow in a time of crisis should they need it.