Friday, March 3

Life Lessons from Death

... And you could tell me your wishes...
My mother passed away in November.

I don’t share this to get any sympathy; my mother and I had been estranged for nearly 30 years. Back as a teen, I made it clear she was not the type of negative role model I needed in my life, and she in turn decided she did not have a daughter. Our paths never crossed again.

So imagine my shock when I received a call at the end of December from a gentleman claiming to be my mother’s good friend and informing me she had passed nearly two months prior. She died alone, with no husband or living family members to mourn her passing. She only had a few friends and a daughter she did not acknowledge. And she had no will.

In my state, there’s legal jargon surrounding such a situation, which in layman’s terms means I’m the sole beneficiary and executor of her estate. The universe is not without a sense of dark irony: I have the responsibility of fulfilling the unwritten final wishes of a mother who I no longer know (assuming I ever really knew her), and in the eyes of the state, all her “stuff” goes to a daughter she refused to claim.

All I have to go by is a note written on a cocktail napkin, dated a few years ago, that I've been told is what she would have put in her will if she'd ever gotten around to it. Cocktail napkins are not legally-binding documents in my state. With such little guidance, I’m undertaking this daunting task not out of a sense of guilt or righting any wrongs in our relationship. I do it simply because it is the right thing to do. And I’m learning a lot about humanity that I’d rather not know.

My mother had three so-called friends in her life, all of whom want something from her now that she has passed. Money and things worth money. Most of which they would not have a hope of attaining if her estate had gone to the jurisdiction of the state, which would have been the case if I had not been found, contacted, and assumed the responsibility. So, the very nature of my involvement began as a means to give them access to their desires. Now that I’m involved, I’m getting all manner of requests from these friends. She mentioned that she wanted me to have [insert object]. Appliances and furniture are missing from her house because She said we could take what we wanted. It’s a he-said/she-said with regards to who ended up with her jewelry, with each party spinning tales to place doubt and distrust about the other parties. And, according to the napkin, $XX goes to whoever assumes the care of her dogs. Can you guess who took her dogs?

Like vultures circling a carcass, vying for the choicest parts. I’ve seen it happen before, and it reaffirms that fact that people can get crazy when a person’s death might benefit them financially.

Then I learn from the mortuary that my mother’s body was left at the hospital where she died, unclaimed and practically a Jane Doe, for weeks before the hospital Chaplin finally made arrangements for her to be cremated. In the meantime, these friends were stripping her house of appliances and furniture, rooting through her belongings for assets the cocktail napkin claimed she had. And never once expressing sorrow or regret for leaving her body for someone else to deal with.

No better than grave robbers, if you ask me. The manner in which these friends have acted in the aftermath of my mother’s death seems contradictory to how I hear they treated and felt about her while she was alive. My mother is lucky not to be alive to see it.

It makes me both sad and angry on her behalf. But in spite of it all (or because of it), I’m learning some crucial lessons for how to set up my own affairs. I previously blogged about the need for everyone to have a will. I think the above example is proof enough why it’s important to make your wishes legally known. I've also learned that even if you have a will, the person who will execute your estate may have to front some money in order to hire a lawyer and legally gain access to financial accounts, pay your mortgage, pay utilities, pay for funeral services, etc. If this executor is a family member, will they have the funds required for this? What if you’re the executor of a family member’s estate? Do you have the money readily available to do this? Assuming it's just a friend or family member, you can set them up on a bank account as a beneficiary. They get access upon your passing to help pay for these things while the estate is being settled. No one likes to think about their death, but do you really want to put your Uncle Scott in such a financially awkward situation to have to personally pay hundreds, maybe thousands of dollars on your behalf?

Note that this is absolutely NOT legal advice, and the laws of your individual state might be different. But it’s worth looking into, isn’t it?

I apologize for the length of today’s blog, and I hate being a downer. But I felt my current situation was a very good parable for all. And while we’re sharing, have you had any relatable eye-opening lessons?

7 comments:

  1. I'm sorry. For all situations such as these and for the people who become unwitting players in such an unhappy game. Thanks for sharing it, though. It is all Important Stuff.

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    1. It has been an eye-opening experience for sure :-) I try not to complain (much) because I'm sure other people have experienced worse and at least I don't have to go through the mourning process.

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  2. Oh, sweets--how I hate that you're dealing with this. Not just because of the legal stuff you're having to go through but also because you have to slog through the painful past with your mother and acknowledge how little you knew her, which has to be painful. And isn't it always discouraging to see how wicked people can be? Her "friends" sound like charming folks. Hope this gets through for you soon--I did go through something like this when my dad passed, but I was fortunate enough to have my siblings to carry some of the financial burden and my dad died penniless, so there was no "estate" to deal with. Hugs and more hugs to you, Ava and thanks for posting this brave parable.

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    1. Fortunately my hubby keeps me grounded and helps me find the humor in all things. Having a support system is crucial, and I'm glad you have a strong one as well!

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  3. I feel for you, Ava...and thanks for the reminder.

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    1. It's my silver lining :-) have a great weekend!

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  4. I'm so sorry, Ava, for everything you are going through now and in the past. You're right about the vultures coming out after someone dies. My brother-in-law's ninety-something year old aunt passed away a couple of years ago. John was the executor, or at least he thought he was. When he arrived he was told auntie had changed her will to make her deceased husband's nephew her executor and the chief beneficiary of her will. This nephew didn't have anything to do with auntie and her husband while they were alive. Somehow, with the help of auntie's "friend", he convinced her to change her will. It's sickening what people will stoop to. Take care.

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