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When a Loved One Dies: What to Do Before & After, Part II

Frau legt Blumen auf GrabIn Part I of this blog, I gave a brief review of what took place during the last 6 weeks of my dad’s life and included a list of some things that can be done to make the last stages of a loved one’s life easier for caregivers, family members and the person who is nearing the end of his or her life. In Part II, I’ll review what I and my siblings have gone through in the almost 3 months since Dad died on Jan. 4 at age 97.

Mom died 20 years ago. We were happy with the mortuary that took care of her, so the first task upon arriving at Dad’s senior living apartment late that snowing night was to call them. They said they would be there within an hour, and they were. While waiting, we began notifying other family members.

Note: An important thing to be aware of is what the laws of your state are and the policies of the care center–if you are using one–regarding authenticating a death by natural causes. In Utah, where I live, if Dad had not been on hospice care with a Dr. assigned to him, the center would have had to call 911 and have paramedics take him to the hospital so a doctor there could verify that they were not in any way responsible for his death. This was one reason we were repeatedly encouraged to put him on hospice. That would not have been true had he died in his own home.

The Funeral or Memorial Service

The following day, immediate family members in the area met at the mortuary to discuss our plans for Dad’s care and services. They had determined the night before that we wanted embalming to be part of that care. (The family needs to have agreed before a loved one dies whether the choice is embalming or cremation.) I was relieved to find out that the mortuary notifies Social Security of a death and also orders death certificates. Whoever is handling the estate should have some idea of how many to order, as there is a charge for each one. Other things discussed were:

  • The date, time and location for a wake/viewing and funeral.
  • Who would provide program information, formatting and printing for the funeral.
  • If an obituary was to appear in the paper &/or online and when. The obituary could be written and agreed upon by family in advance of a loved one’s death.
  • If there would be graveside services.
  • Because Dad was a Veteran, if we wanted military honors to be part of the services (a flag draped over the casket, members of the armed services to be at the graveside, etc. We couldn’t find Dad’s WWII discharge papers, so a flag was our only option.)
  • Our choice of a casket (also something that can be done ahead of time) and a headstone. (Because Mom preceded Dad in death, we already had a headstone in place. His death date just had to be added).

Depending on your religious and family traditions, other things might need to be decided, like who will participate in the funeral, be pallbearers, etc. Dad had made some funeral plans years ago, but not all of them could be carried out. All 9 siblings were involved in those decisions, which became a little tricky at times, but fortunately, everyone agreed that when they were over, Dad’s viewing, funeral (church service) and graveside service were everything they’d hoped.

The Estate

After the services, came the tough decisions regarding what to do with Dad’s possessions and monetary assets. The first thing we had to do was to move his furniture and belongings out of his care center apartment so that rent charges would end. There were also many possessions still in the condo he had shared with his wife but left behind when he moved to the care center. Fortunately, everyone agreed to a random order of selection that gave each sibling a chance to take turns choosing the things they &/or their children wanted. The things no one wanted were donated to charity. We did not have a home to sell.

Because Dad had set up a family trust with me and one of my brothers as the trustees/executors of the estate, and he also had a Prenuptial Agreement with his third wife and a Will, some things went more smoothly than they might have. I had been handling all of Dad’s finances for some time, and had consolidated his accounts and assets as much as possible. We are still relying on the help of our investment counselor and the accountant who has prepared Dad’s taxes over the years. It may be necessary for you to involve an attorney, as well, depending on your family’s situation. Even though Dad only lived for 4 days of 2017, his Social Security and annuity payments for January were still considered “his.” We will have to file State, Federal and Estate returns for 2017, so some of his assets have to be held back to pay taxes and administrative and accounting fees. As a family, we are so fortunate that Dad left us with an inheritance rather than debts. That would involve another set of challenges.

Last week I finally got all of the required tax forms and information for 2016 to the accountant. We’ve distributed most of the monetary assets, making a distinction to the beneficiaries as to what amounts will be taxable and what will not, so money can be set aside by those individuals to pay taxes as their tax bracket dictates. There will still be a meeting with the accountant notifying him to whom the assets were distributed, so he can file K-1 (Estate Tax) forms for each one at the end of this tax year, and so 2017 tax forms can be completed as needed. I still have thank you notes to write and mailing addresses to change.  Other than that, we are left with just the many memories of our Dad, the long life he lived and the hope and faith that we will all see him again when it is our turn to pass on.

Summary: (Do as much as you can before your loved one dies.)

  • Select/Call the mortuary of your choice.
  • If a Dr. is not present, know the laws of your state for authenticating the cause of death.
  • Meet with the mortuary to plan services and burial/cremation, order death certificates, verify Vet status, select a casket and headstone where applicable.
  • Write an obituary and arrange for publication or posting on a website.
  • Plan funeral/memorial/graveside services.
  • Find important documents: trust, will, POA, living will, life insurance policies, annuities, etc. (Where possible, help your loved one get their affairs in order and these documents created/located while they can still participate!)
  • Devise a system for amicably dividing up possessions between family members.
  • Use professional help, as needed, for handling monetary assets/debts and tax issues (financial planner, investment counselor, accountant, attorney).
  • Notify the post office and others who will be sending mail to the deceased where to send it now.
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