Death has been on my mind a lot lately. My grandma passed away two weeks ago after a seven year battle with cancer. For a lot of that time, it seemed like she might beat it and there was even a four year respite there when she was in remission.
Weirdly enough, thoughts about money managed to anchor me during really bad times. I’m actually a super practical person by nature and I’m not so good with the emotional side of things. My mom calls me Sheldon.
Some things about death and finance I’ve learned/thought about over the last few weeks:
- Not to look a gift horse in the mouth, but the best gift to bring people who are in the middle of a family crisis is healthy food. The number of boxes of donuts people brought us was just ridiculous. If I never see Dunkin Donuts again, that would be ok with me.
- It takes actual training to be a caregiver. If your family member wants to die at home, no matter how much they don’t want to talk about things, you need to make a real plan about who will assist the family. My mom was my grandmother’s primary caregiver and I came home as often as possible to help her as much as I could, but, quite honestly, neither of us had a clue what we were doing and my grandmother was adamant she didn’t want outside help. I don’t think she had a clue what she did to both of us by making us promise that.
- Long term care insurance is an excellent idea. I cannot think of a better gift my parents could ever give me than investing in that for themselves.
- Despite rave reviews from everyone we knew about how excellent hospice is to work with, our experience was absolutely horrific. The hospice system is split into a few different aspects – a nurse, a social worker and home health aides. Our nurse was fantastic, but she would generally check in about once a week. The primary care from hospice comes from the home health aides they set you up with and all of ours were a nightmare until the very last day.
- Having enough retirement money saved up to not have to worry about expenses is an incredible blessing.
- If you get sick, make sure all of your power of attorney needs are straightened out early on. FYI – power of attorney expires at time of death. So if you think you’re going to use mom’s bank account to cover expenses after she dies, since you’ve got power of attorney, you are not. Either take out the money in advance or be prepared to pay out of pocket and wait for any inheritance to clear.
- Make sure you have a will! Interestingly enough, if you are the executor, you are entitled to an executor’s fee that comes out of the estate. We had no idea. It is also not required that you take it.
- If you do not have a detailed will and your children are on good terms, still make sure that there is a list, in an easily accessible place of who should get what with any expensive items you own such as jewelry, collectibles, etc. Everyone reacts very different over the loss of a loved one, and it’s better that everyone know your wishes instead of emotional fighting over who gets Mom’s wedding ring or something horrific like that (fortunately, that did not happen to us).
- For the love of all that’s good, please keep any financial accounts and information that needs to be dealt with at the time of your death up to date (as best you can, understandably, the last few months might not be in order) and organized. I loved my grandma, but apparently she was a horrible organizer. Everything was just crammed in a few different envelopes with little pieces of paper she’d made notes on, that had often come lose and she kept the weirdest collection of things… like my grandfather, who died 10 year’s ago, old gas card – and several statements that went with it. So mixed in with vital information, we had to sort through credit card statements, stock information from 2012, her 2009 taxes… sigh. Binders are your friend people. Actually, they’re your next of kin’s friend. And if you’re young and think you don’t have much that would have to be taken care of in the event of your death, now is the time to start that binder, before it gets too complicated!
- When trying to sort out wills and inheritance, the first step is to order death certificates from the funeral director. Once you have one, you can take the will to the county surrogate (which is a type of lawyer). They collect all the necessary information from you then the will is approved in the Surrogate’s Court. You don’t have to attend that court, and I’m not sure how it is in other parts of the country, but it’s worth noting that in NJ, the court meets once a month. So you will not receive any inheritance until after that date. I mention that for practical reasons because of my next point.
- Funerals are incredibly, incredibly expensive. We had a very normal funeral for my grandmother, with nothing super extravagant, and those two days came out to close to $15,000. $15,000. I just don’t understand. And her plot was already paid for. So that number isn’t even included in that.
- Personally, I have been interested in green funerals for years. I just like everything about them so much better on an environmental and mental level. After seeing the price tag for my grandmother’s, I’m now very interested on a financial level as well.
I’m well aware that part of my keen interest in the mechanics of death finance is that as the oldest in my family, I’m pretty sure it’s going to be my job to sort all this crap out when my parents go. Besides being the oldest, my brother is also very much not a Sheldon… so I don’t think we’ll want him making any sort of decisions when those awful moments occur.
But let’s finish this on a positive note. I’ve never seen two people live such a fairy tale romance as my grandma and grandpa and it’s definitely a comfort to think of them happy together somewhere now. Look how incredibly gorgeous my grandmother was: