Six Things My Father Did Right on Estate Planning

In addition to remembering your loved ones on this Memorial Day, perhaps you should consider how you want to be remembered when you are gone. I have just completed the administration of my parents’ estates after my father’s sudden death about seventeen months ago. During this emotional and time-consuming process, I often had reason to think about the many things he did right before he died.

(1) He had a recently updated will.

last-will-and-testamentAfter my mother died, my father considered again his wishes for where his possessions and property would go, and updated his will. He died just six months after my mother, so it was a good thing he didn’t procrastinate.

I met with his lawyer with him, and he explained why he wanted the changes he did. I therefore felt able to carry out his wishes after his death. He also showed me where his important documents were, including the keys to the safety deposit box. (And I made a note of these things, and I even located the note after he died.)

(2) He involved me in his financial affairs before he died.

I was to be his executor, and I knew it. Once it became clear that my mother’s Alzheimer’s Disease made her incapable of handling financial matters, he showed me his bank and brokerage account statements and told me how to log into those accounts so I could monitor them myself. This was at least three or four years before he died. I didn’t watch the accounts regularly, but I did periodically. When he did pass away, I knew immediately how much he had in his checking account and how much in savings.

He also gave me his email password, and I could therefore use his address book to contact his friends by email after he passed away.

(3) He had me meet with several of his advisors.

In addition to the lawyer, he had also taken me to meet with his brokerage agent, with the realtor who had sold my parents the house he lived in, and with the accountant who did his taxes. These people were all familiar to me, and I with them. That made my transition to managing his affairs much easier.

(4) He kept his files well organized.

TTC envelope 20150413_095305

My dad’s envelope with 2014 medical expenses calculated, prior to January 5, 2015

I noted in an earlier post that he already had all his tax calculations for 2014 done when he passed away on January 5, 2015. I have to admit that I am not nearly as organized as he was. But I really appreciated his attention to detail, in this as in so many other things throughout his life.

(5) He planned his funeral.

Well, actually, he planned my mother’s funeral. But as he did so, he and I talked about what he wanted and what he didn’t in his own funeral. So, six months later, as awful as it was, I was able to plan his.

(6) He had made arrangements for the next phase of his life.

The phone call announcing his death could just as easily been to announce that he had incurred a serious physical or mental disability and was incapacitated. Had that happened, I would have known where to start. He had already placed a deposit on a continuing care retirement community, where he planned to move about a year later. As usual, my father was one step ahead of the game.

While I wished he had downsized his home on his own and made this move, had he been incapacitated, I would have known where to start on finding a place providing the care he would have needed.

I suggest that we can all benefit from these six things that my father did right. Any of us could die or become disabled suddenly. It helps to be prepared.

Not everyone will be as proactive as my father—heaven knows, I’m not!

But we can all remember his last instructions to me, sent in an email on the day he died: “Plan, implement, and follow up.”

When has someone else’s preparation helped you in life?

Dressing for Funerals

MC900149529I seem to be going to more funerals these days. Not only is the generation ahead of me passing away, but a few of my peers are beginning to fall as well.

It used to be easy to dress for a funeral. I took out my black skirt suit – or navy blue, on occasion – and paired it with a solid-colored or muted-print dress blouse. And donned the pantyhose and pumps I wore every day to work.

But I’ve noticed that almost no woman wears a skirt suit to funerals anymore. A pants suit – or more likely, slacks and a pretty or striking jacket or sweater – is as dressy as most women get these days. “Business casual” seems to have morphed into “funeral casual.”

Still, each time I psych myself up for a memorial service (“yes, this is one you have to attend”), I carefully consider what I will wear. After all, I want to show respect for the departed and for the grief of those left behind. I ask myself:

  • How did I know the deceased, and what did he or she typically wear when we met?
  • What friends and relations of the deceased do I know, and what are they likely to expect of me?
  • What are my fellow attendees likely to wear, particularly those whom I know and with whom I might sit?

My husband hasn’t gotten the memo yet about “funeral casual.” If he is going to the memorial with me, he will almost certainly wear a suit and tie. So I have to dress up enough to look like I belong with him.

If my legal friends will be present, I’ll dress like I’m going to court, in tailored pants and a jacket instead of a sweater.

But if I am likely to encounter fellow retirees or other non-corporate types, I can go pretty casual indeed.

I recently attended the memorial service of a writer friend. He usually wore jeans or shorts with a T-shirt to our critique group meetings. Many of our mutual friends wear “garret chic” of some ilk. I was fairly confident that I would see a variety of garb at his memorial.

And so I did.

There were a couple of men in jackets at the funeral, but not many. A few women had nicely tailored skirts or pretty dresses, but many wore more casual attire. I had decided on navy pants, a knit top, a blue floral sweater, and my favorite ballerina flats – neat, and a step up from what I usually wear to writing meetings, but not fancy.

The male presider at this service wore slacks and a blazer, as did the female presider. That is, until the male presider left the podium for a while, and returned wearing a Cinderella costume, complete with tiara.

crown or tiara isolated on a white backgroundYou’d have to know the deceased to understand that the costume was entirely appropriate. We will not forget this friend soon.

And I realized at the moment the presider changed garb that I had worried way too much about what to wear for this service.

What’s important at a funeral is not what we wear, but that we show up to honor the dead and give comfort to the living. That’s what I should tell myself next time I’m psyching myself up to attend.

How do you feel about “funeral casual” attire?

Central Planning . . . or Planning Central

I’ve written before about my planning abilities. They are being severely taxed this week, as we gather the family for my father-in-law’s funeral.

Throughout the week, we are coordinating the arrival at the Kansas City airport of my two adult children, and my husband’s sister and her husband, cousin, niece and her husband (with two toddlers), and two nephews.  They are arriving from Boston, Missoula, Richmond, Seattle, Spokane, State College, and Washington (D.C.).

That list is in alphabetical order by city of origin. I have another list by estimated time of arrival, cross-referenced with which vehicle and driver will pick up which passenger(s) to convey them to the small town in central Missouri where the funeral will take place, and whether they need an intermediate layover at our house.

(And, of course, the list also describes how we will reverse the process after the funeral.)

I have become obsessed with these lists. Something to focus on in a difficult time. My husband is traveling and can’t get home until Friday, and I want him to feel good about the arrangements the rest of us are making for his father. So I am compensating by becoming Secretary of Transportation.

But I don’t mind. I’ll handle travel.

And let someone else deal with the sleeping arrangements. Managing the logistics of age, gender, and marital status is worse than taking on air traffic control responsibility.