Ask the grumpies: Preparing for death

Sandy L asks:

Things you should have in place in case you die or are incapacitated. (Like tell your spouse where the passwords and wills are, important paperwork in one place, etc)

What things do you wish you asked a dead loved one before they died?

We are now left with a bunch of really difficult Ask the Grumpies!  Let’s get started.

We have no idea about this one, but we can search the internet  (here’s some more checklists) and ask Grumpy Nation.

One thing that #1 is glad that we did this journal before DH’s grandma’s Alzheimer’s became too severe.  His aunt did something similar for his other grandma before she died and finally got the actual recipes for her famous homemade food rather than the slightly wrong versions of the recipes she would give to people when asked.

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16 Responses to “Ask the grumpies: Preparing for death”

  1. First Gen American Says:

    The recipes and personal history thing is a good one.

    My neighbor had a bad stroke a week after she taught me to cook one of her famous recipes that requires tricks to make it. Her kids regret not doing a dna test before she was incapacitated because now it’s hard for her to spit.

    I’ve been trying to get my moms wishes for funeral etc, but she refuses to talk about it. She’s just like: I don’t care. Do whatever is cheapest. Maybe she really doesn’t care.

    Here’s my short list:
    Know where the will is

    Know all the financial bank account numbers and passwords if online.

    If there are loans and credit cards, know how many. I suppose that would be on a credit report so you could get at it.

    If there are siblings know if any have their hearts set on a specific item and work out in advance. I’ve seen families torn apart by a hope chest.

    • Debbie M Says:

      My mom said that if we spend a lot of money on her funeral, she will come back and haunt us. It’s nice to have this support when those funeral places put the hard sell on you. (She did admit that she wants a plain wooden box and is squicked out by cremation.)

  2. independentclause Says:

    I have joked/not joked with my friends about literary executors. (Just something to think about.)

    Also I have my father’s papers (he was an academic). It’s a lot of content and I have no subject knowledge. I’m glad to have them, but also, which parts could I just toss? (Sorry, Dad.)

  3. Jenny F. Scientist Says:

    Advance directive, someone you trust to abide by it (fun fact: if you have a DNR and your next of kin says resuscitate them many hospitals will resuscitate! – other fun fact, in some states including CA outpatient DNRs are not valid for inpatient) and medical power of attorney.

    • Solitary Diner Says:

      Yes! This! In Canada, most provinces have websites that provide information on the legalities of advanced directives and in some cases provide fillable templates. As a physician, it is hugely helpful to have some information from patients about their wishes. It is also really important to talk to family members/other support people about your wishes before you’re incapacitated.

  4. hypatia cade Says:

    Set up bank accounts and investments to be TOD -> this provides access to assets to cover immediate funeral expenses.

    If there are unusual assets (gun collection, coin collection) have it valued and documented while the owner can still participate and provide information about providence.

    Know where the password list, safety deposit keys, and wills are. If possible have a plan for guessable but unique passwords (i.e., amaW0rd!zon, bankW0rd!name where W0rd! s an agreed upon memorable family word that meets most password standards so that you have a prayer of cracking that code). Make a list of key information about you like doctor, lawyer, bank account, insurance company, sources of income, major bills – those set on auto-pay and those not, account numbers for utlities.

    Set both primary and secondary beneficiaries on IRAs etc (without a secondary beneficiary prelisted, RMDs reset to a less favorable value) or put them into a trust.

    Be sure all vehicles and other property have current titles/deeds etc. (especially for cases where, say grandpa died, and grandma just kept driving that car….It’s a lot harder to sell the car; even harder if grandpa’s executor is deceased or unavailable and different from grandma’s).

    We have been very grateful for paper statements because bills, and assets existed that we didn’t know about and would never have guessed.

    Make a list of people who should be notified -> we have spent time guessing contact info for friends and sending emails/texts to people based on cell phone history and email history. Not an ideal approach.

    Consider buying longterm care insurance sometime in your late 40s- late 50s.
    Give written permission for your children/spouse/parents to discuss your medical care with your doctor and insurance company.
    Have both a medical and financial power of attorney. Discuss with all of your children/spouses/significant parties your wishes, not just your executor, so that there is some clarity and agreement about the general process –> what makes life worth living; what changes in your life would make it so you wouldn’t want to continue. These might be medical but they also might be something like “if I don’t recognize people anymore, I’m done” or “as long as I can watch football and drink beer, I’m good” –> what do you want done with your stuff —> what do you want/not want in terms of funeral rights.

    If someone is the executor of a complex estate, it’s like taking on an emotionally complicated part time job for a year or two. Be nice to them. Send them flowers and chocolates. File the papers they ask you to file. Show up when they ask you to show up. Don’t fight over stuff.

    • Leah Says:

      Yes to paper statements! After my mom passed away, we found out about a life insurance policy we didn’t know she had (an old one from her dad). This didn’t even come from a statement, per se, but came because she had moved in with me and was having her mail forwarded to a PO Box in my town. Apparently, the post office notifies some companies (maybe a great reason to have a national post?), so the life insurance company sent out a letter to confirm the change of address, which prompted us to call.

      Also related: if possible, try to update beneficiaries on accounts other people held for you. I don’t know if she could have, but it would have gone smoother had my mom called her life insurance company for this policy and changed the beneficiary. It was my grandfather, and he’s been dead since the early 80s, and we’re not sure if we have a death certificate. We were finally able to find obituary info online and change the beneficiary to my father.

      I’ve talked with my parents about being their executor since I know the most about their finances, and I suggested that they should put this in a will and then give me a slightly larger share of their estate. They freaked out at the idea of not evenly splitting everything. But, as you say, it’s a big extra job. I’m trying to work now to get my dad’s ducks in a row for his eventual passing so it’s less crazy than my mom’s death has been.

    • Jenny F. Scientist Says:

      This form (“Five Wishes”) is a great template for the kinds of decisions about end-of-life care (https://agingwithdignity.org/shop/product-details/five-wishes-online) though it does have a small cost associated.

  5. hypatia cade Says:

    https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/getting-your-affairs-order

    You may also need wills/death certificates for people who are predeceased. (Spouse, children, parents).

  6. hypatia cade Says:

    One more thing. If you have minor children and no will, it is INCREDIBLY irresponsible. Make arrangements for guardianship and temporary care for your children. Make arrangements to ensure that any assets you might have cover the costs of care for said minor children. Without a will, these decisions can be contested and are at the whim of the state. Have a conversation with the people named as guardians – if they are far away, who will care for your child until they can arrive? Have that conversation too.

  7. becca Says:

    Program the bot on the internet who will replace your snarky comments with the snarky comment algorithm that best reflects you- don’t let somebody select a snarky comment algorithm FOR you to serve the nefarious needs of someone in Moldova.

  8. chacha1 Says:

    A will or end-of-competency plan should include a plan for care and housing of any pets.

  9. Leah Says:

    Once my mom was diagnosed, I started going through jewelry with her. There’s no quick, easy way that I found to do this, but I wrote down a description of favorite/family jewelry and then added the story of why it’s important. Wish I had taken the time to take pictures and upload them into the document — that would have been useful. I’m hoping my descriptions are good enough to tell what jewelry is which when we get around to sorting.

    Also, a general note that’s not just end of life: if there’s important family heirlooms you’re keeping, and you want your kids to value them and want to keep them, make those a part of your life somehow. Some of my favorite things from growing up are not the “most important” family heirlooms in my mom’s eyes, but she never pulled those out until she had terminal cancer, so I don’t feel a strong connection. Incorporate valued or loved items into your life, both so you can appreciate them and so your family understands their importance.

    My mom’s death also precipitated a desire to declutter in me. She was not good at parting with items, so we have had a lot to go through (and lots more still!). This might be a multi-year process for our family. I want to spare my kids this, especially if I die unexpectedly, so I’m trying to get better about letting go of things I don’t need anymore.

  10. Miser Mom Says:

    Thanks everyone for all these suggestions.

    Ever since I was dying of kidney failure caused by fatal stomach cancer (okay, actually ever since I had a bad bout of anxiety one fall), I have paid a bit more attention to making sure my kids can step in and figure out my affairs easily. I have an option of sharing passwords via LastPass if they want; I’ve done the decluttering thing (and continue to do it, kind of obsessively); I’ve made us all “Emergency books”. We’d already made our wills and other directives.

    About 30 years ago I did the interview-elderly-relatives thing. But now I realize I’ve got to write those interviews up and match them to pictures, before I become the elderly relative and the youngsters have to interview me!

  11. Debbie M Says:

    Lots of good ideas here!

    It’s so easy to take people for granted. It’s good to get in the habit of asking for recipes, song names, clothing companies, etc., as soon as you realize you want them. I also tell people about things of theirs that I love: “If you ever decide to get rid of that, please let me know.”

    I once wrote a codicil of who should get dibs on certain things of mine, but ten years later, I didn’t even know where some of those people were. I’ve also heard of putting a little sticker on the bottom or back of things saying who might like them.

    I knew one person who was the executor for someone with a fancy car. Fortunately, she found an organization of people who appreciate that kind of car and was able to sell it through them. Ideas on how to deal with valuable but esoteric things (like papers?) could be very handy.

    My boyfriend knows the password to my computer, and using that he can get into lots of sites easily because the user name and password are automatically filled from there. But he also knows where I keep the notebook with the passwords. Still, it’s good to remind each other about these things periodically.


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