Surprise ending
October 1, 2008 8:29 PM   Subscribe

I just found out within the last hour that my father has passed away. I am in California and he lived in Missouri. Now what?

I have cousins there, on site who are handling the immediate needs (waiting for the coroner). I am at a loss as to what I should do next. I'm making phone calls to family and friends and I know I need to go out there and see to things - but after that? I don't know his preferences for a funeral, but he's always told me that that was all "taken care of". I'm hoping to find paperwork when I go out there in the next day or so. After that there will be a house to sell and belongings to deal with and I know I don't really have to worry about any of that just yet, but it's keeping me from being too sad right now.

Any advice would be welcome.
posted by jvilter to Human Relations (20 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
I'm so sorry. Do you have any friends or family who you can be with tonight/tomorrow? Being with people you feel close to might make the next 24 hours a little better.
posted by rglass at 8:43 PM on October 1, 2008

My dad died unexpectedly a few years ago. There's a lot to do, but I found that a lot of people turned out to help do it. Your first order of business: getting to Missouri. Be sure to ask about "bereavement fares." The airlines may be kind enough not to scalp you since you need to fly RIGHT NOW, but you'll need to show them a letter from the funeral home on the way home (no, I'm not kidding.)

Sorry to hear about your loss; I hope you have friends & family to help you through it.
posted by spacewrench at 8:53 PM on October 1, 2008 [2 favorites]

1. Did he belong to a church or other religious organization? The religious leader (priest, minister, rabbi, whatever) will have a lot of experience with how to arrange the funeral. Otherwise, there is probably a cemetery where other family members are buried - they would know if he already bought a plot or help you with that part. Cousins can probably pick out a funeral home - they would have a chapel for funeral services and help with all those details of the funeral and burial.

2. try to take at least a week off from work - both to take care of stuff in Missouri, to be with your family and also to let you deal with your loss for a bit before you have to face every day life.
posted by metahawk at 9:05 PM on October 1, 2008

I live in Branson, Missouri, southwest corner of the state. If you need any help or contact in this area, let me know. I'm also a real estate broker, so I might be able to point you in the right direction for selling your father's home. My thoughts are with you and your family.
posted by shinynewnick at 9:05 PM on October 1, 2008

So sorry for your loss jvilter.

I got a lot of help from this thread earlier this year.
posted by netbros at 9:05 PM on October 1, 2008

Having lost a parent recently, though not unexpectedly, my advice would be to make your airline reservations, not worry about anything else at the moment, and try to relax with a glass of wine or by any other means is appropriate until it's time to go. I would try not to worry about big jobs ahead and just let yourself have the thoughts and feelings that will probably come to you as things sink in.

I am, honestly, very sorry and hope that things go smoothly for you.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 9:14 PM on October 1, 2008

I'm so sorry jvilter.

There are several "what to do when someone dies" checklists linked in my comment here, if they are useful.
posted by salvia at 9:28 PM on October 1, 2008

I'm very sorry to hear you are going through this. Please, lean on your friends and family.

Many people will offer to help you in specific ways. Let them.

Many people will offer to help you in unspecific ways. If you feel they are sincere, give them specific tasks. They will be happy to be of help.

My mother died earlier this year, and my father basically refused any help from anyone. He remained stoic and miserable and isolated. Don't be him.
posted by Mountain Goatse at 9:44 PM on October 1, 2008

Best answer: I'm sorry. It happened to me a couple of years ago with my mom, and it's rough. I'm assuming that it's up to you to handle everything, as it was for me. When mom died, it was me & my much younger sister left behind, it meant I had to be responsible for handling things. Everything below works on that assumption.

Fair warning - this is not a feel-good post. This post is very much about nuts-and-bolts details, and hard-won experience. Losing a parent sucks, and I'm sorry.

First things first - as others have already said - get yourself there. Call the most convenient airline, use words like "funeral" and "bereavement", and expect a decent fare - I was able to fly my sister back from the UK within 48 hours for a very reasonable price.

Once you get out there, talk to everyone you need to talk to - funeral director, religious figure, etc. Ask as many questions as are needed. FIND A LAWYER. I was lucky, mom had a lawyer who was a friend, and she was a huge help. Immediate concerns are funeral arrangements, and what you/family want to do about them.

People will call regularly during the first few days, all offering sympathies, all offering their help. Take them up on it. Don't feel guilty asking for help on stupid things - they won't mind doing it, they'll feel like they're helping, and it saves you from doing stupid things (e.g. running to the store for paper plates).

Everything up & through the funeral is going to be a whirlwind, and is going to be extremely surreal. Don't try to get too much done, just try and spend time with everyone, and try and get as many stories about your dad as you can. I don't know how you're wired, but I needed to have people thinking happy (or at least fond) thoughts around me. I got stories out of my mother's friends that I had never heard, stories that were simply tremendous.

Honestly, the hard part is the weeks and months after the funeral. Once everyone goes home & returns to their lives. And you have a deceased parent and an estate to deal with. If you have other family members that can help/be relied upon, fantastic.

Here's the itemized list of things you need to remember, based on my experience, FWIW:

* Locate the will. This is the A-number-1 priority. If inheritance is not clear-cut, it gets messy.

* Get *many* certified copies of the death certificate (I got 25) - copies are cheap and easy initially, it's far more time consuming to get copies later. Every account you close will want a copy, only some companies will return them.

* Get the lawyer involved early on in the process - they may cost a bit initially, that help is worth far more in the long run.

* A valuation for the entire estate is needed for the purposes of taxation. You will need to go through every account he had, and figure out the value of all those accounts on the day he died. Locate all bank statements, CC statements, phone/utility bills, mortgage payments, random outstanding debts, etc. You will need a valuation on the house, the car, anything else he had of value. If there is *any* chance he was worth over $1M when he passed (he did own a home), find an accountant who works in this field, estate taxes can be extremely painful. Furthermore, the estate itself will need to file annual taxes (assuming it's necessary) - accountant & lawyer help here as well.

* I'm assuming that you will be designated executor of his will - you will need the legal document to back that up, known as the "Letters of Testimentary" (at least in NY) - talk to the lawyer. Get a lot of copies of those Letters as well, you'll go through a lot of them.

* At this point, you're dealing with consolidation - getting all the assets in one place for future distribution. Mind you, there's no rush on a lot of this stuff. For example, you don't need to sell the house, you could just get a tenant. Depends on how things are working for you & your family.

* If your father had liquid assets (e.g. bank accounts, CD's, stocks, bonds, IRA's, etc..), that all needs to be liquidated & placed in an estate account until disbursement can be done. Get a Tax ID number from the IRS (see google, it's easy), and start sending out letters to the various accounts to close them. Open an estate account with your local bank to hold all the money in one place until disbursements can happen.

In the end, people will generally be extremely polite and will try and go the extra mile for you when you explain your situation. ASK AS MANY QUESTIONS AS YOU NEED. Births, Weddings, and Deaths are the only times in life where complete strangers will give you the time & consideration you wish people always gave each other. If you don't understand something, ask. Ask for help as much as you need it.

And in the end, don't get too caught up in the mechanics - they do make for a good distraction, and do help mask the pain, but aren't a real coping mechanism. Try and find some time to think about your dad, and remember him for the person he was. It's going to be a rough time, don't rush trying to get over it - it will take time, and it won't be easy. But you will get through it. Don't be afraid to ask for help.
posted by swngnmonk at 10:15 PM on October 1, 2008 [37 favorites]

So sorry to hear about your loss.
posted by puckish at 10:42 PM on October 1, 2008

My condolences. My mother died a couple of years ago.

I would second the advice of getting a lawyer. Especially, get an Estate Lawyer. I got an Estate Lawyer contact at the funeral, and after visiting with her and hiring her to do the job, she took care of everything, from closing the bank accounts to paying bills and handling collection agencies, to finding a realtor for her condo (which I chose to liquidate instead of keep). This allowed me to go back home and try to put my life back together.

Also, do not be afraid to seek out a therapist, if you feel you need one. Mine was immensely helpful.
posted by spinifex23 at 10:51 PM on October 1, 2008

I'm very sorry for your loss.

My father died four years ago and like you, I lived a long way from him.

This will be a stressful time for you and your family. That stress can manifest itself in many ways, including people over-reacting to minor slights and generally behaving in unusual ways.

If you can, try to cut yourself and them some slack.
posted by quidividi at 11:12 PM on October 1, 2008

I'm so sorry to hear about this.

I don't know much about actual prep for funerals and etc, but make sure you take care of yourself, and watch out for others in your family and make sure they do the same. A loss is that much worse if you're dehydrated/hungry/smelly.
posted by Verdandi at 11:26 PM on October 1, 2008

Response by poster: You have all been so kind and helpful. I should have mentioned that I am at home with my husband and son and have been in touch with friends and family over the course of the evening, so I am not lacking in moral support. We made travel arrangements tonight and will fly out tomorrow, and I am thinking about the memorial service we will have. Thank you for your kind wishes and your specific advice, which I will be referring to often in the coming days.
posted by jvilter at 2:27 AM on October 2, 2008

I'm really sorry, jvilter. You said you were thinking about the memorial service, and this poem has always seemed appropriate for a dad to me, though it may not fit your dad. It sounds like your dad had a long life, and I hope you have many happy memories of him.

The End

Not everyone knows what he shall sing at the end,
Watching the pier as the ship sails away, or what it will seem like
When he's held by the sea's roar, motionless, there at the end,
Or what he shall hope for once it is clear that he'll never go back.

When the time has passed to prune the rose or caress the cat,
When the sunset torching the lawn and the full moon icing it down
No longer appear, not everyone knows what he'll discover instead.
When the weight of the past leans against nothing, and the sky

Is no more than remembered light, and the stories of cirrus
And cumulus come to a close, and all the birds are suspended in flight,
Not everyone knows what is waiting for him, or what he shall sing
When the ship he is on slips into darnkess, there at the end.

Mark Strand
posted by onlyconnect at 5:54 AM on October 2, 2008 [3 favorites]

Get the lawyer involved early on in the process - they may cost a bit initially, that help is worth far more in the long run.

When my mother died, getting a lawyer was probably the single best move I made. He took care of getting copies of all the documents I needed, wrote the letters that needed writing, filed stuff with the courts, and gave me a checklist of things I needed to do that he could not. I probably could've figured it all out on my own, but he made everything easier. It was money well-spent, and not particularly expensive.

Sorry about your dad.
posted by thinman at 7:56 AM on October 2, 2008

Seconding what quidividi said.
posted by small_ruminant at 10:06 AM on October 2, 2008

So sorry to hear of your loss.
Our thoughts go with you.

I didn't see anyone mention it, but when my father died, as soon as the SS became aware of it (which was amazingly fast, before the family had a chance to notify them) they came back to the bank and withdrew his last monthly check. They did not notify anyone in the family, they just did it. Many people that age do not have a large cushion in their checking account, and it could have resulted in bounced checks, exorbitant fees, all kinds of problems. If you have a lawyer yet, they can advise you. If not, a quick call to the bank might tell you in general terms what to expect and what kind of balance you have to work with before you need to worry. Then you would know where you stand for a few days until you get a lawyer.

In MO (as I'm sure many other places, but I know about MO) the phrase "taken care of" often means the family member has paid in advance for the arrangements they wanted, sometimes down to the flowers being paid for.

If he lived alone, there might be an envelope taped to the inside of a cabinet with all the papers you'll need in it. (It's AARP standard procedure.)
posted by unrepentanthippie at 10:33 AM on October 2, 2008

If your father had liquid assets (e.g. bank accounts, CD's, stocks, bonds, IRA's, etc..), that all needs to be liquidated & placed in an estate account until disbursement can be done.

swngnmonk's comment above was excellent, but I just wanted to say that you should NOT follow this advice and immediately liquidate the IRAs. First of all, like life insurance polices, IRAs have beneficiaries, so they don't go to the "estate" (unless the estate IS the listed beneficiary or if there is no listed beneficiary). If someone else is the listed beneficiary, then the IRA is not your concern anyway. My grandmother died earlier this year, and I did a ton of research for my mother on how to deal with the inherited IRA. They can be shockingly complicated tax-wise, and depending on your circumstances you might not have to, or want to, liquidate it immediately. Speak to an accountant before you do anything with the IRA, or if you are financially savvy at least read up on the topic (AskMe question with good links/comments that may help you) in a few weeks when you feel up to it. IAAL but IANYL and this is not legal advice, etc. etc.

I'm very sorry for your loss.
posted by gatorae at 4:15 PM on October 2, 2008

You have my good wishes and sympathies.
posted by MythMaker at 4:39 PM on October 2, 2008

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