I had one of the most difficult experiences of my life this Christmas season: my mother passed away suddenly, unexpectedly, while we were taking her to the hospital. Nothing prepared me for this experience, not even the work I have done with couples and individuals planning for these end-of-life moments or taking people through the probate process. Now, I understand better the overwhelming emotional journey that accompanies the legal situation. As I am walking this road, cleaning out her apartment, arranging for funerals, and communicating with family, I thought it could be helpful to share a few things that I have learned through these circumstances.
We all know that our lives are going to end at some point. As often as not, that end will come without much advance notice. I want to know where all of the information about my bank accounts, insurance policies, debts, etc. is located, so my family can find that and access it easily.
Second–A good mortuary makes a big difference
My mom did not do any pre-planning, so we had to find a place to help. The hospital gave us a list of mortuaries, and we called several till we found one that seemed affordable. We had a great experience with people who really cared and helped out. We didn’t feel like we were being run through any sort of mill. They made arrangements so family members could have some personal time to say goodbyes.
Third–Have some easily accessible cash for your family
While the mortuary experience was nice, they also come at a cost. Cremation will cost you a minimum of $2100, while a funeral will cost you several times that. Most of our children do not have the ability to simply foot that bill while waiting for an estate to settle up. Set up a bank account with your children as the pay-on-death beneficiaries. That way, they can have a way to access some money to cover those initial costs.
Finally–Have a place to keep all of your important papers
My mom had a will (I drafted it for her years ago), but she didn’t know where it was. I never found it, even after going through all of the boxes in her apartment. Having copies of all your bills (and your login information and passwords) can be super helpful. Just make certain someone knows where those documents can be found. Since this happened with my mom, it has inspired me to have a conversation with my dad, in order to be better prepared for when he passes away. He also lives alone, so his passing could become a similar situation. This has also inspired me to get things in order in my own home.
While preparation doesn’t make the loss of a loved one any easier, it helps make all of the details less intrusive in the grieving process.