Need end of life plan for remote family
May 25, 2022 3:50 AM   Subscribe

Inevitably, we feel a troubled family member is going to lose his battle with addiction. As distanced family members, how can we prepare for that day?

Jeff is increasingly incommunicado, despite abject apologies and promises when "lucid" that he will call/text someone at least once a day. He lives a long way from any other family and last weekend was the 4th time in six months a police check was requested (they could not verify anything because his door was locked and there was not obvious danger or other belief that breaking in was warranted). A recent medical procedure may have led him to yet another means of access to opioids, and it just feels dire. The last anyone heard from him, he was rambling and incoherent.

We are not looking for addiction help or other admonishments. Please set those comments aside; I appreciate those intentions and impulses, but that's not what is being asked for in this case. Believe that we are all dealing with all those feelings.

What is needed is a practical plan for the day we know is coming, when the call is finally that Jeff is no longer with us, and from our collective distances, things will have to be done. Grief management aside, there are many considerations that sorrow and guilt can keep you from remembering.

Funeral arrangements must be made and carried out (Jeff is 46, unmarried and no co-habitants), but he has no will or other end of life planning in place that we know of. His apartment will have to be emptied of possessions and cleaned out. What else?

If you have had to go through this long-distance process, please help us put together a plan of the things that we need to prepare for and be aware of. This is in suburban Indianapolis in the USA. Thank you in advance for your compassion and assistance.
posted by I_Love_Bananas to Human Relations (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

Email accounts are these weird storage units for all sorts of information that becomes essential for what comes after. If there's a way to get access to any email (etc.) accounts now, do it. Google's Gmail, for instance, has an inactive account management interface that releases access to specific people when specified periods have passed without any account use. I know it sounds strange but if there's something to be done here now is a good time to explore it.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 4:43 AM on May 25, 2022 [1 favorite]

I would suggest finding and calling a funeral home in the area now. People do advance planning for funerals all the time. I don't know the legalities of how much you can do as relatives, but the funeral director can help you get as much of that aspect in place as possible. They might also have other helpful advice.

If you don't have an estate attorney in Indiana, you are going to need one. That is also something you can start working on now so you aren't scrambling to find someone after Jeff passes. You can find out from that person what else you need to do.
posted by FencingGal at 5:08 AM on May 25, 2022 [3 favorites]

Best answer: That reddit wiki is really good.

The main thing is to be on the same page with other relatives who have a legal or emotional stake in all of this. Someone will need to be recognized as next of kin and therefore entitled to make decisions about this stuff - it is worth figuring out now who the official legal next of kin is (this varies state-to-state but generally it will go spouse, children, parents, siblings, and so on, and for inheritance purposes ). But even people who are not official next of kin may have strong feelings about how all of this should be handled. If this is, say, your sibling, things will go easier if you and any other siblings and surviving parents can all agree.

There might not be that much more to do beyond funeral arrangements and emptying out the apartment, and anything beyond that can wait a while.

About emptying out the apartment - you will probably want to hire a cleanout service (you can google for "estate cleanout services Indianapolis" or ask a realtor or funeral director or anyone likely who lives locally for recommendations). If you think there is anything you/other family/friends would like from your relative's personal property, you will want to retrieve that before you set the estate cleanout people to work. Also obviously you will need the landlord's cooperation if this is a rented apartment, and depending on how professional the landlord is they may just accept you as the next-of-kin or they may want you to provide them with documentation, accompany you when you visit the apartment, etc.

Yes, you can contact funeral homes any time.

If you're not sure whether you need an attorney or not and you have an EAP through work, this can be a good use of your EAP. Whether you will end up needing an estate attorney really depends on your relative's assets. If there are no assets, or the assets are in payable-on-death accounts, there's not much for an estate attorney to do. If your relative owns real estate and/or has significant amounts of assets in non-POD accounts, yeah, you'll almost certainly want an attorney. It looks like, in Indiana, if your relative dies without a will and their estate is worth less than $50,000 you could use this Small Estate Affidavit to gain control of their assets.

But really the details of the estate stuff can wait for months - you don't need to straighten that out right away. The only reason the apartment cleanout is urgent is because you don't want to have to keep paying rent on an unused apartment.
posted by mskyle at 5:37 AM on May 25, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: It's not clear from your question if you have already done this and it is not an easy thing to do but I'd start by figuring out what you want to do. And what the wider family want to do. I realise this is probably a fraught and painful topic and may be very sensitive for your family and I am not trying to distress you. But if you haven't done that, I would encourage you to do it.

You and your family may want to do all the things for your loved one because it is a way to provide a last service/help they refused to accept during their lifetime. But there is a very big spectrum of what you could do - ranging from everything to nothing.

Normally, claiming your loved one's body and arranging for their funeral is different from sorting out their estate. You may want to take care of their funeral but not the estate. Nothing is also an option because all jurisdictions have processes for handling the death of people who have no associates or die without will. They do not rely on friends or wider family to step in. And of course stepping in may be the most appropriate thing to do for you and your family.

This may not be a useful thought process for you but I'll describe it anyway. My approach to any kind of problem where the 'moral/emotional stakes' feel very high and there is a strong urge to do something is to start at the other end and figure out what would happen if I did nothing. What parts of that outcome would be acceptable and what would not be acceptable? That then allows you to figure out where to step in to give a loved one a funeral or to wrap up their other affairs.

Good luck to you and your family and your loved one - this is a very difficult situation to be in.
posted by koahiatamadl at 6:00 AM on May 25, 2022 [3 favorites]

That reddit wiki is really good.

It's good at a high level but lacks a lot of details -- I would use it as a starting point but each step will require additional research.

Echoing what others have said, one of the key things you can do now is agree on who is going to (or not going to) take on various roles. Is there someone willing to take on the process of probate, for example? Assuming you have a person or people in the family who are willing to take on roles like probate, dealing with the funeral home, etc., you could research those to learn the specific process in Indiana and, if necessary based on the estate's size and complexity, potentially reach out to a lawyer and so on.

Also, and I understand that this is particularly fraught given that he has been incoherent recently, is there anyone in the family willing and able to make the attempt to talk with him about things like end of life plans and so on? (This can be hard or impossible even with people who are in good shape mentally, but I wanted to at least mention it.)
posted by Dip Flash at 6:46 AM on May 25, 2022 [1 favorite]

This is another horrible possibility, but he might become obviously incapacitated long before death, yes? Having a serious but not lethal stroke, that kind of thing.
posted by clew at 9:57 AM on May 25, 2022

If he can be convinced of it, a medical alert system will help make all this less bad. There are some wearables that basically just look like watches now, but he would have to be willing to wear and respond if needed. But knowing when someone dies sooner rather than several days or weeks later is … very good. If he won’t wear something, you can set up a weekly delivery of a treat he likes in a way that insures someone will notice if he is no longer collecting (this depends on his apartment building).
posted by Bottlecap at 2:51 PM on May 25, 2022 [1 favorite]

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