The aftermath that follows death: A tale of two persons

My friend’s dad recently passed away. Despite his sudden passing in a distant city, my friend and his brother had both been named ‘executors’ on the will. My friend had to travel to a distant city to begin the process of taking care of his dad’s ‘affairs.’  I’d like to quote him directly as he shared the experience of dealing with the aftermath of death: “Dad told me where his will was — what he didn’t say, or leave any information about, was financial information. Bank cards in his wallet and a few dated statements I found after poring through box after box of material we took out of drawers, provided me with clues. But the search for investments and debts has been much akin to an Easter egg hunt. I’ve been making multiple phone calls and visiting various institutions to glean information for the accountant and his estate lawyer. Only because the company name was on his TV boxes did I learn who to contact about closing his cable account. An old bill from 2016 told me who his utility provider was.” Taking care of his dad’s affairs was demanding and exhausting and what made matter’s worse, because both he and his brother were named as executors, both of their signatures were required on every single piece of legal documentation. Since neither of them lived in the same town, this was an arduous logistical challenge. Finally, my friend instigated a legal proceeding to make himself the sole executor (with his brother’s consent).

Note: only have one person named as executor on your will if you want to avoid a similar hassle, otherwise you will experience the painstaking process of collecting multiple signatures on every form.

My friend summarized this learning experience as follows:

“I’ve learned an important lesson — we all need to be ready for the inevitable. As I go through this process, I’m planning to make sure my family knows what they need to make the process smoother. What we need to do is be organized. Store current bank statements in an envelope or file folder. Ditto with investment updates. We need to be focused and prepared and make life easier for those we leave behind.” When I asked why he thought his dad had not prepared or discussed the nature of his ‘affairs’ with him, he responded with three reasons that are probably pretty common to many people:

  1. Fear – there is a fear around facing the inevitability of death;
  2. Avoidance – one has an expectation of a long life and therefore, can put this planning off ‘till tomorrow’;
  3. Worry – people are worried that this reality talk about death and dying might make one depressed.

I want to contrast the aftermath of my friend’s experience with the ‘preparation’ that my father-in-law has taken to ‘make life easier’ for those he leaves behind. 

Listed above is a picture of my father-in- law, Owen in front of the filing cabinet in his home office. The open folder contains a multi-page index documenting the nature and order of all the folders in the open drawer where he has stored all of his important financial, legal and insurance information along with other documents related to his affairs. When I asked him ‘why’, ‘why did you put the time and effort into organizing your files this way?”, he explained that his wife who is now 96 years old won’t be able to pick up and manage these affairs if I die without me laying them out very clearly and carefully.” Now that his wife has passed, the responsibility of dealing with the aftermath of his death has fallen to my wife, Becky, Owen’s daughter. He has had her into his office and explained where things are and what needs to be done. How do you think Becky and I will feel when we have to execute his wishes and deal with the aftermath of his death, all while suffering from the loss of her dad? I imagine we will feel extremely grateful for his foresight and planning that made it easier for us to manage his affairs in his absence.

So, I come back to the question I posed at the beginning, in my first post, “How do you want to be remembered?” By being organized now and putting time and effort into planning today, you can save a lot of grief and distress to those that you leave behind later on.

If you would like help in knowing ‘what’ to organize, see our “Just in Case” list here.

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To live well, age well, and die well, you need to Plan Well ®