End of life organization?
July 7, 2011 7:59 AM   Subscribe

What do I need to know to prepare for my parents (hopefully far in the future) death? What should they have ready? What about to make my or my partner's death/incapacitaton easier on the other? Snowflake details inside.

My grandfather died a couple of years ago, and my grandmother hasn't been the same since (well, of course not!). However, that, in addition to some other happenings lately have made me think that being prepared would be a good thing.

My dad is mostly taking care of my grandmother - I know she has a will, but do not know if she has a living will. I think he has a handle on her accounts, although it would be ideal to have a more organized list, and I can likely help with that. She does have a grave plot, and I assume my dad knows her burial/funeral preferences. He and my uncle will likely take care of anything related to this, but I would like to be available to help. I do help with current organization, so helping to organize lists of stuff, etc, would not be out of place.

My mom is not very good at finances or organization, and likely has no will/living will, etc. I do have access to her banking accounts, and am listed as the payable on death person. I've asked her what her burial/funeral preferences are, and do not believe she has life insurance. She does not own a house, and just has a car.

I am my dad's only child, and I doubt he has anything in place. (will, living will, etc) I know there is a family plot for him, but do not know if he wishes to be buried there. He owns a car and house.

I have a computer program that does up living wills, wills, etc - but I am not sure of their legality in Georgia. I know they would have to be signed and notarized, at the very least.

My husband and I have some life insurance, just in case, but that's about the extent of it. We have one joint banking account, and otherwise keep our finances separate. We have two cars, but do not own a house, in the way of assets. Oh - no kids, and we do not plan to have any. We do have pets, and some nieces and nephews.

I have seen the question about a living will vs living trust, but since it's just us, and no kids, I don't think it's relevant. No one in my family has a ton of assets.

So, my questions -
What do I need to worry about in regards to my mom and dad? (They are divorced.) I will be the only one taking care of them. Obviously, I should make sure they have a will and a living will, and I should know what their burial/funeral preferences are.

How much money should I make sure is on hand to take care of their funeral stuff (particularly in the case of my mom - my dad has savings, and that shouldn't be an issue). How does that process work? I imagine you have to pay up front, and then get the life insurance, etc, money afterward to be reimbursed.

Should you pre-pay for a burial plot?

Lifehacker (I think) posted a master information kit, which I plan on filling out for my mom, and trying to get my dad to work on it. I also plan on working on it for myself & my husband. (This is a google doc that includes a bunch of information, including lists of accounts, insurance polices, assets, etc).

I feel like this is all a bit morbid, but I don't want to have to worry about a million little things that I "should have done" if/when these things happen. I know my grandfather didn't expect to go when he did, and I feel like there were things he didn't tell us that he wanted to - I don't want that feeling with other people, if possible. Should I go before my husband, I want it to be as easy as possible for him to access everything.
posted by needlegrrl to Human Relations (19 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
Lawyer, lawyer, lawyer. Seriously, if it wasn't for the fact that I had an attorney when my mom died, I would have literally drowned in paperwork. Even with said lawyer, I am still following up with and dealing with things, and this is from one dead person who really had their shit together before they died last year.

Even if there aren't a ton of assets, they're still there and unless you want to throw your hands up and give everything over to the state, you need someone on your side who knows what they are doing.

Should you pre-pay for a burial plot?

Yeah, definitely. We had to do this the day-post-death (we're Jewish so it was all ASAP) and it would have definitely been easier -- I'm a stoic dude, but I don't suggest anyon deal deal with sales and bureacracy immediately after a loved one dies -- if it was all just pre-arranged.
posted by griphus at 8:10 AM on July 7, 2011

Consult a probate attorney. You really don't want to do this on your own, particularly if there's any money involved. He'll be able to walk you through the whole process.

This is one of those things that you really want to pay someone else to do, because 1) as you're gathering, it's one hell of a lot of work, and 2) the consequences of messing something up can be a nasty combination of unpleasant and expensive.
posted by valkyryn at 8:17 AM on July 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Wills, living wills, medical directives: make an appointment and haul your mother down to a lawyer. Even better: get the same for you and your husband, as well.

You can pre-arrange funerals, from having the funeral home come to pick up the body all the way through to the burial. And I heartily recommend it! My mother died in a hospital, my father at home in his favorite reading chair; in both cases, because they'd made (& paid for!) pre-arrangements years earlier, all I had to do was call the funeral home. Last year, my oldest sibling was finally talked into making her own pre-arrangements; no one expected it, but she died only two months later: her daughter said she was very glad she'd gotten her mother to do it, as that's no time to be making expensive financial choices.

Also, most reputable funeral homes have payment plans for the pre-arrangements, so it's much easier than having to come up with thousands of dollars for the total funeral expenses all at once when you're already shellshocked and mourning.
posted by easily confused at 8:39 AM on July 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

OH, this is something very important that people tend to be confused about:

Power of attorney is for living people. Once the person dies, you no longer have power of attorney over them and the, er, "power" is left to the executor of the estate. This is probably going to be you in both cases, but the distinction is important for dealing with anyone for whom this matters.

Also, make sure you sign up as a healthcare proxy for your parents. This means you will be able to make medical decisions for them with no hassle if god forbid you need to.
posted by griphus at 8:58 AM on July 7, 2011

I just went through this with my father and here are all the things that were in place that made everything mostly awesome, considering the circumstances.

- He had a recent, legal will with a local attorney who became our attorney working through the paperwork. It's sort of good to work with someone who knows your parents.
- He had a cemetery plot already. I had not known this. It was sort of a mercy, one less thing to deal with. There was a local funeral home who handled the arrangements and they knew the people in town to talk to and deal with including headstone people, etc.
- We had spoken to him about end-of-life things right down to what sort of service he wanted and what else he might want [no real service, a catered party at his house with his friend from college officiating]. It's so great to not have to guess at times like this
- Pets. We were lucky in that we rehomed the pets with a minimum of fuss but make sure if there are pets incolved you've considered those things
- He had a few documents that contained
-- all his financial information [where he banked, account numbers, what his assets were]
-- passwords to EVERYTHING including some Google docs with personal information which were helpful in trying to wrap up a bunch of things [like cancelling a zillion magazine subscriptions]
- This didn't apply to me but you also want a living will and some outline of health care proxy and legal power of attorney things. My dad dropped dead but if he had been incapacitated we had paperwork ready for dealing with that

The other important things were that I have a rock solid relationship with my only other sibling, my sister, and it's been great having a sane person to deal with who is on the same page as I am and HELPFUL. If there are other half siblings on your mom's side of the family [I couldn't tell by your post] it may make sense to make them part of the process. And the tricky thing is managing money. We were doing okay in this regard but there's often a month or two between someone dying and the will [if there is a will] creating the "estate" as a legal entity. Having a "payable upon death" bank account set up is really the way to go here.

Funeral home stuff for my dad [very basic and did not include the cemetary plot] was about $5-6K including headstone which was maybe 20% of all of that. I don't know how most people deal with it, but we just wrote them a check.

Things that were less awesome included exes coming out of the woodwork either to be petty and weird about arrangements we were making or just to drop us an "I'm sorry" note after being MIA for 20 years. This is predictable but also really tiring. You may want to make sure you have a loose idea of how to get ahold of family and friends of your parents to let them know what's going on in the event one of them is sick or dies. Also, and this is random, a friend told me about a site called 1000memories [I have no affiliation] that is a great place for people to share memories of a deceased person. It's online, free and free forever and a good way to get people who want to share stories to do it in a way that other people can share and not just fill your inbox. Nearly everyone in my family can figure out how to use it.

Best of luck and good on your for getting this started early. I know it's tricky to think about and talk about these things but it's so much better to do it beforehand than when you're in no mood to once something has happened.
posted by jessamyn at 9:17 AM on July 7, 2011 [6 favorites]

My mom died a few years back, and it wasn't sudden so she had lots of time to prepare. What she did helped me more than she'll ever know. Sounds like you're already on track to do it, but wanted to give first hand experience on how much it helped.

A simple list of her SSN and phone numbers (insurance, social security, banks, lawyers, etc) with relevant account information.

Luckily she had already taken care of the will and medical directives and whatnot.

My only wish is that she had also included a list of friends / former co-workers for me to contact.

I've since made a similar list for my dad's stuff.

It's definitely not morbid to do this, because the last thing you want to deal with after a parent dies is digging through reams of paper to find that one account number.
posted by Zoyashka at 9:18 AM on July 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

I keep a list in our safe, with a copy at our attorney's office, that contains all account numbers, with user names and passwords where relevant. It also has relevant social security numbers, other important docs (car lease; apartment lease; info on sale of our old home; several years of past taxes), and the names and phone numbers of our people (insurance agent; financial adviser, attorney). I update it once a year. I figure this is good in the event that either we both die, or if one of us dies unexpectedly we'll have the stuff in one place, rather than having to deal with it.

Make sure that your life insurance/401K/other accounts appropriately list the right status (i.e. married) and include your spouses' SSNs. Also make sure that the beneficiary designations are appropriate (if you have a trust/will the attorney who drafted it for you can tell you what language to use to get this right. if you don't have a trust, name a person, with enough identifying information to find them, as a secondary beneficiary).

In my experience, if you're married, holding title to things like houses and cars make life easier. I was at the secretary of state's office the other day and a woman was having a hard time getting appropriate tags for her boat because all the information was in her husband's name, and he had died. They wouldn't give her any of the information she needed unless she had a death certificate, which apparently she didn't have. So that's something to think about.

And of course will, medical power of attorney, durable power of attorney, living wills are all helpful when appropriate.
posted by dpx.mfx at 9:26 AM on July 7, 2011

The WSJ just had an article that should answer a lot of your questions: The 25 Documents you should have before you die.
posted by kaybdc at 9:58 AM on July 7, 2011

One piece of advice for after your parents' wills are made: do NOT put your parents' wills in THEIR safety deposit box or one where they are on the account. Originals should be somewhere else, like your box or in your house in a fireproof box.

My dad died unexpectedly and my mother had to sneak his will out of their box the next day, when the box should have been locked up. I had a friend whose parent left the will in their box and died without recovering it. My friend lived in a different state and went through a lot of hassle to get the box opened to recover the will.
posted by immlass at 10:03 AM on July 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

My father was a practical New Englander and a Unitarian-Universalist. He participated in a workshop at the church out of which he created a binder of information regarding the arrangements to be made at the time of his death. It included things like the cremation pre-pay account, a list of people to call and their phone numbers, preferences about the memorial service including having his minister friend conduct the service, (I think it had) his advanced health care directive re no extraordinary means, information about the lawyer and will, pension, bank accounts, etc., etc. It was a loving gift to all of us and particularly to my mother, who followed the instructions to the letter at a time when she needed some framework for managing.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 10:29 AM on July 7, 2011

This is not a link to the workshop my father attended, but is a sample guide from a UU church. You can find similar guides on line and/or in your community.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 10:38 AM on July 7, 2011

Just for informational purposes, make sure you have DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) orders set up (if they apply). Further, some states (I'm looking at you New Jersey) require a separate out-of-hospital DNR form in addition to whatever one the hospital/hospice has. And when the time gets close, these should be posted in the home. Otherwise, if an EMT is called s/he is obligated to resuscitate.

I had the gift of knowing a year ahead of time that my mom was going to die. I made contact with a funerary professional and asked what could be done if you were given this gift. I was offered the following advice:
First, the important thing is to decide and discuss what you want her funeral arrangements to be. Whether they are simple or complex, the important thing is to talk it out and make sure all the next of kin are in complete agreement.

Finances are important, too. Make sure there is a clear will and that all insurance papers are accounted for. If you can't find the actual policies, get the names and phone numbers of the insurance companies and I can help you call them and figure out what her policies are and if they are in effect.
To that end, my mom planned out a lot of her funeral ahead of time and gave us a list of who we should contact and their contact information and wrote out her wishes. We were able to question her on things that were vague as well as get a better feel for her intent as we had to ultimately make decisions that were in alignment with the spirit of her wishes.

She made a list of the things that were valuable and what things she wanted to go to whom (if anyone).

Make sure that there is a health care proxy and an executor named.

Find out what information is needed for a death certificate and have that information all set and ready to go.

Write the obituary ahead of time.

To be clear, I've only ever lost one parent, but I truly believe that it was easier to grieve when I wasn't worrying about finding the information, as that was already done.
posted by plinth at 11:17 AM on July 7, 2011

Oh, I will also add this - inform the bank/credit cards immediately. Like before anyone else knows including the state. Within hours of my mom's death, her bank account had debit card transactions placed and we couldn't do anything useful until the court had recognized my brother as executor. Heck, if we knew we would have locked down the account when she went to the hospital.

While the culprit was probably never caught (we don't know), they picked the wrong people (me and my brothers are all heavily into technology/software) as we turned it around as assertively and quickly as possible.

I will not present my analysis of the mechanism attack (I'd like to. It's quite fascinating) because I'd prefer that it not spread any more than it is already.
posted by plinth at 11:26 AM on July 7, 2011

Oh, I will also add this - inform the bank/credit cards immediately.

We had a different tack on this. My father had a lot of bills and whatnot that were set on autopay and it was good for us to have them just keep getting paid. I'm not sure what the situation is in a bank account that has you as the "payable upon death" person, but we had a weird situation arise (which again I won't go into, same as plinth) and it was actually USEFUL for us to have access to my dad's account, as him, to straighten it out.

Our lawyer also told us that some mortgage companies have the option of calling in the loan when the owner of the loan died [meaning that the mortgage will be due all at once] so there might be value in letting that go a little bit. Obviously, you'll have to think about what is best for you. We were fairly certain that my dad's banking information was secure.

Just to be boringly pedantic for a sec, this was what was happening

- dad dies
- we meet with lawyer and start paperwork for the will/estate stuff
- this all hinges on getting the death certificate which can take months if there is something unusual [in our case the person who was to sign off wasn't my dad's usual doctor and wanted a tox screening done which can take months]
- once the death cert or provisional death cert is filed and the paperwork starts moving usually there's announcements in the paper to make sure no one else has a weird claim/issue with the executorship and this is when the banks find out of you don't tell them
- you become executor at the end of this process, anywhere from a few weeks to a few months [or more if there are issues]
- then there is a legal entity called "the estate of $_FAMILY_MEMBER" that is authorized to act for the person, anything you do before there is usually quasi-legal triage depending on how well things are set up.

It's worth knowing there is going to be this weird several week gap there.

Write the obituary ahead of time.

This is also good, if not ahead of time at least have the major points outlined. For many people, this is the first time they'll get that news and if they knew your family member at a different point in his life it might be where they learn a lot about them. It's worth doing a good job with this, if you can.
posted by jessamyn at 12:16 PM on July 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

My father had a lot of bills and whatnot that were set on autopay...

Interesting - I would offer instead that the "right" thing is to take over the finances well before death, if possible. In other words, transfer funds and bills to the name of the executor so that you have the ability to act on issues that might happen post mortem. Had we done this we would likely not have had the problem that we did and would have been able to act on it sooner and without knowing details, I believe it would have solved jessamyn's issue as well.

Of course, in taking over financial reigns on should expect emotional response from anyone/everyone involved.

If you want to think about it terms of time as a justification for doing it, the three of us ended up spending at least 24 total hours just dealing with the fraud. That's time talking to the bank, fraud departments, the places that charged the account, the police, and so on. And trust me when I say that we had other things we could have done with that time.
posted by plinth at 12:58 PM on July 7, 2011

In addition to all the other stuff - have a lawyer, know where all the paperwork is, keep current on the paperwork, etc. that other posters have told you, there is this:

Try to persuade your parents to declutter. My mom died in January and I'm STILL decluttering a 4 bedroom house stuffed full of a range of valuable antiques to sheer junk (old margarine containers, shoulder-padded 1980's clothes). I spent the first month after mom died and before I moved into the family home with my dad just unstuffing all the closets!

This isn't to say you should tell your parents "gimme all your good stuff now!" but if they are packrats, start gently suggesting a clean-up, offer to help them organize, or call in a professional if necessary.

Alas, sometimes this is to no avail - mom was a hoarder and would go NUTS if I tried to throw out so much as one margarine container. But having loads of clutter makes life so, so much harder for those who are still living and have to clean up after you. As the old saying goes, "you can't take it with you."
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 4:02 PM on July 7, 2011

Make sure you have money set aside - outside of their accounts! - for expenses. Depending on the type of succession they choose, you can be a while without any access to any of their funds even if you have an executor clearly stated (trust funds are especially horrid for this). My mother was a control freak and got talked into all sorts of complicated bullshit when she was making her will, leaving us with a huge headache; 6 months later and we haven't been able to access a cent, with two minor children to care for. We've easily spent 30,000$ since then.
posted by buteo at 7:44 PM on July 7, 2011

Very good advice here (especially jessamyns). I'll try not to add the overwhelming data and just give you my anecdotal info:
  • If there's life insurance, double-check the beneficiary info as noted above. My dad died in February and he still had his parents as beneficiaries (they died over 15 years ago!). I'm also an only child and he wasn't married so it ended up alright, but still . . .
  • Also, do not take your parent's word for anything. Ask to see all documents yourself (or with a lawyer). It's not a matter of trust, but your parents may have an incomplete understanding or just not want to look at it. These sort of discussions are uncomfortable for people and they may want to take the easy way out or avoid looking at the details.
  • On the life insurance side of things, as long as the beneficiary info is clear, this money actually gets paid out pretty quickly, assuming you send the necessary forms immediately.
  • Definitely push your parents to get a will done ASAP. The more airtight the better, but even those simple DIY ones (notarized) are better than nothing.
  • All the estate stuff mentioned above is crucial. You absolutely need to have them specify an executor or chaos will ensue.
  • In terms of how much money is needed. The big and uncomfortable discussion you need to have is what sort of debts exist? Is there a mortgage, home equity loans,credit cards, etc. This will have a big impact on what ends up happening with finances.
Realize this is a great instinct for you to be doing this now. Your future self will be incredibly grateful when the time comes. Push yourself to follow through with all of the details, because trust me, any inconvenience you feel now will be quadrupled after the fact.
posted by jeremias at 1:06 PM on July 8, 2011

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