Probate: Our Experience continued

Today I will write a little more about Probate from my own experience.  I want to emphasize that I am not a lawyer.  There are many good books on Probate and you might want to check some out of your local library when you need some information.

It is not necessary to have a lawyer if you are an executor for a simple estate and/or if you don’t have anyone who might make the process difficult for you.  On the other hand, if there is property to sell and perhaps complicated financial issues, it is probably a good idea to have a lawyer.  Also since the executor is legally responsible for the decisions made during probate, I think you might want to at least consult a lawyer during the process even if you are doing most of the work yourself.

Legal Fees

In my state, the fees for the lawyer are set by state law and vary by the value of the estate.  For my lawyer, the fee setup was like this:

  • 5% of the first $100,000
  • 4% of the next $200,000
  • 3% of the next $700,000
  • 2 ½% of the next 4,000,000
  • 2% for sums over $5,000,000

Needless to say, for dad’s estate we didn’t get to the higher levels!

They said the average estate is administered in 16 months, but could be as short as 8 months.  It took 20 months to complete dad’s estate.  It felt like a hundred years!

There are advantages and disadvantages to such a fixed rate.  First of all, you know exactly what it will cost and you have no reason to fear that the lawyer will drag things out to increase his fee.  On the other hand, there is a disincentive for the lawyer to put in more hours on a complicated estate.  And there is nothing to push him to get to this case when others are going to be more lucrative.   I did feel that our estate lawyer let some things just sit while he worked on more interesting or more profitable cases.

Now you might also be thinking about “avoiding probate” as I have seen and read many articles and talks about doing so.  Again since I am not a lawyer, I won’t go into why you might want to do that.  I will just say that I did NOT want to avoid probate.  This is so because I believed (and still believe) that I would never get my brother out of my parent’s house if we did not have to sell it to complete probate.

Again I will say that there are times when probate is not necessary.  If the decedent had very few assets, probate would probably not be necessary.  If the decedent has a house or other property, this makes it more likely that probate will be necessary.  In fact, one of the reasons I wanted to sell the house when dad was in assisted living was so that probate would not be necessary.  Also, I knew we would reach the point where dad’s cash would run out and then I would have to either sell the house or apply for Medicaid.  This would be especially true if he needed to go into a nursing home.

One thing I always kept in mind was that in our area a person needed to show they could access at least $100,000 in order to get into a good nursing home as a private pay resident.  If you had less, you would need to apply for Medicaid or sign papers stating that the nursing home could take and sell your home or other property in order to pay the debt after the resident reached the point where they could not pay the monthly rent.

I have been told by people who specialize in elder care that the better quality nursing homes take mainly private pay residents.  Once you are on Medicaid, it is hard to get into your first choice nursing home in an area like this.  They say that even when patients start as private pay and then spend all their money they can often stay as a Medicaid resident.  However in general, the Medicaid clients are given the lower quality rooms or the least desirable locations like near the elevator, laundry room, etc.

The most desirable nursing homes often won’t take Medicaid clients at all or limit the number of Medicaid clients they will take.

Therefore, I didn’t want dad to go on Medicaid as long as he could pay his own way.  Also if anyone were to sell my parents home, I wanted to do it ourselves so that the nursing home or government agency wouldn’t take a share of the value of the house just for administration of the sale.  I felt sure we could do it better and less expensively ourselves.

I was unsuccessful in convincing my brother to vacate the house while my father was alive.  My brother believed as long as he dug his heels in, he would be able to stay there forever.  This, in spite of the fact that he owned his own home in another state that was bigger and nicer than the one he was living in.  Basically he wanted access to both houses for as many years as it took to move his belongings from dad’s home to his own home.

Here I will state that my brother is a hoarder.  His belongings would take multiple 18-wheelers to move from one house to the next.  He had little motivation to do the hard work of packing and moving so long as he was able to keep his access to both houses.


Posted in Caregiving, Eldercare, Estate Probate, Hoarders, Hoarding, Medicaid | 10 Comments

Life After Death: or How My Life Progressed After Dad’s Death

I know I haven’t written regularly since before dad passed away.  I have been overwhelmed with the process of probating his will and settling his estate.  It is not the legal probate process that is so onerous.  Instead it is the emotional turmoil and the family controversy that goes along with settling an estate.

Although I knew that at age 97, dad did not have long to live, even before his sudden heart attack.  Nevertheless, I was overcome with grief and the inability to focus.  I knew I was to be the executor and that there was a lot of work ahead of me.

However it was the dead of winter and the “polar vortex” was down and around us.  I couldn’t even contemplate doing the things that needed to be done.

I had returned to my home community to be with dad during his last illness.  My children were with me at the hospital and hospice until dad passed.  They went with me as I went to make funeral arrangements and to start the legal process with the estate lawyer.

I don’t deal with winter very well and don’t drive on snow or in the dark.  I told the lawyer and the funeral director that I had to finish everything by the end of the week so I could return to my vacation rental.  I would take care of most matters upon my return, and what couldn’t wait would be done by telephone, mail or overnight couriers.

My neighbor brought in my mail for me and my son forwarded it to me once a week.  From my southern retreat I dealt with the issues that couldn’t wait.

One of the first tasks was to write an obituary for dad and determine where it would run.  When mom passed, we chose two newspapers, one in their home town and one in their winter community.  But by now, dad hadn’t been in the winter community for 4 years and many of their friends had passed on.  Instead I ran the obituary only in their home community, where friends and relatives remained.  I sent a note to the senior community where mom and dad had spent winters for several decades and asked that it be posted on their bulletin board.

The obituary that we published also had an online component and some friends from the south also wrote condolences there.  I received many cards that were forwarded to me, and my brother, who lived in dad’s house, also received cards.  I sent personal notes to everyone who had written their condolences.

The other pressing issue was dad’s final checks from both Social Security and his work pension.  I had to be sure those were returned.  It is easier with Social Security to have the bank return the deposit or Social Security recoup it because all dad’s checking accounts had to be closed immediately upon his death.

I couldn’t make any checks from the estate for months — until the letters of testamentary were issued by the court.  I did get a letter from Social Security and called dad’s bank to please send the funds back.  I thought it would add too much confusion if I sent a personal check and the bank told me that as a rule, Social Security does just take the funds back.  That worked out well for me.

Because bills were coming every day, and I was anxious to begin paying them, I called the lawyer asking about opening an estate account.  He reminded me that I was not the executor until the surrogate court declared me to be the executor.  That meant that the will naming me executor had to be accepted by the surrogate court and the court had to issue letters of testamentary stating that I was the executor and giving a tax number so the estate could open bank accounts.

In the end it took 2 months to get the letters of testamentary because my brother refused to sign the papers he had received.  Signing the papers would mean he accepted me as the executor.  My sister signed quickly as she wanted the estate to be settled.  However, my brother wanted to delay at every step.

I have stated before that my brother was a hoarder and he lived with my parents.  He didn’t want to vacate the house and was using every method he could come up with to delay the entire process.

Finally I asked my lawyer what we could do to make him sign the papers.  I knew my brother did NOT want to be the executor.  We were both present when my parents wrote and signed their wills in their lawyer’s office.  He knew they wanted me to be executor.  The estate lawyer called my brother’s lawyer and I think his lawyer told him he has to sign or the court will order him to.  Anyway after a delay he signed and the court issued the letters of testamentary.

With the letters of testamentary I was able to open an estate checking account and finally begin paying dad’s medical and other bills.

I won’t write any more today but I did think I would continue to spell out a bit more about how the whole estate settlement process can take so much time and cause so much stress.  If siblings get along the whole thing can be settled quickly and easily.  But if one heir wants to slow down the process, there are many ways he can do so.

Posted in After Death, Caregiving, death and dying, Eldercare, Estate Probate | 7 Comments

End of the Year Wrap Up

I know I am way overdue for a posting especially now that the year is drawing to a close.  This will be my first Christmas without dad, and he would have had another birthday by now too.  I miss dad very much, and even after 5 years, I miss mom incredibly too.

This is the first year I can plan to travel without arranging for companions to watch over dad.  It lifts a heavy weight off my shoulders, but still leaves a large empty spot!

Most of the tasks I had to do after dad’s passing have been done.  But the estate probate still must be settled.  This is complicated by sibling disputes and may not happen for quite awhile.  In the meantime I try to put it out of my mind.  The lawyer is supposed to be handling that so there isn’t much I can do other than stress about it!

Even with dad gone, I still encounter elder issues on a regular basis.  I live in a community of seniors and many have had serious illnesses this year.  In fact, 2 nearby neighbors have passed in the last month and several others are seriously ill at this time.  When I can, I help my neighbors determine what resources are available for them since I spent so many years studying about those issues.

I continue to keep up with some of the blogs that I have been reading for years.  But I have dropped many of the others as I try to pick up other activities in my life.  Now I am able to attend seminars or travel out-of- state more easily and I have done so several times. I haven’t even looked at this, my blog, in months because of family and other obligations.  I had hoped that once I wrap up probate I could blog about the process.  But with this being so involved right now, I have decided to stay away from the details.  I will just say that I don’t feel that I have totally dealt with mom’s and dad’s passing because there are still so many issues up in the air.

Grief is a strange thing too.  For one day I will think that I am totally OK and the next day I will get a sudden urge to call mom (gone 5 years now) or go visit dad.  They were such an intricate part of my life for so long, it is hard to internalize the fact that I can’t just go see them now.

As we approach the holidays, I am thankful to have most of my children and grandchildren nearby.  My focus is on preparing for the holidays and family gatherings that will be happening in the next month.  I hope to feel a fresh start in 2016 and to be able to move on.

I will always miss mom and dad, but now I need to focus on the future and the things I can do with the younger generations.  It is odd to be the oldest generation now — the orphan who can’t turn to mom and dad with questions as I always have.

And for you, my readers, I hope the past few years of blogging has been a help in your eldercare responsibilities.  I am not sure how much I will post in the future, but for now I will keep up what I posted in the past.

I had always envisioned this blog moving on to other family issues.  Perhaps after the disputes are settled, I will feel more ready to do so.

In the meantime, I wish you all a Happy Holiday Season, whether for Hanukkah or Christmas or New Years or any of the other holidays people celebrate during this time of the year.

Posted in After Death, Caregiving, Eldercare, Probate and Estate Settlement, relationships | 10 Comments

Back to my Blog — At least For Today!

I spend a fair amount of time thinking about this blog, but never seem to get the time to sit down and write. So much has been happening, and only a few of these things were anticipated.

I did finally manage to give away almost all of the donations I had stacked in my living room, dining room and garage from cleaning out dad’s assisted living apartment. Other items had been in my closets and garage as dad’s room was too small for all season clothing.

I had several large bags of adult diapers which I learned Catholic Charities could really use for some of the clients that they serve. Then I donated dad’s walker to them also. They have been so helpful. My transportation driver comes from Catholic Charities so that was how I made that connection.

Additionally, I donated all of dad’s clothing from summer shirts to winter jackets and much more to various charities. I took bags and bags to Goodwill. Others called about having a “truck on my block” in the next week and I said yes to 3 of them. Now my garage is nearly cleaned up and I have just one open box to donate next week.

While cleaning out dad’s things, I have begun to make bags of my own clothing and other items. It is easy to build up too much stuff, especially when living in a very small apartment. I have only just begun with my own stuff though. I ran out of time and energy before I ran out of things to do.

I am trying diligently to move dad’s estate settlement forward. After an almost 3 month wait I finally got the letters of testamentary which were needed to move probate forward. I met with the lawyer and his assistants several times so far. We have some complications that are also holding things up. Other things are moving as planned, just more slowly than I had hoped.

In order to take my mind off all the “work” of probate, I signed up for some community classes. I enjoy these immensely and don’t like to miss a class. Thus I schedule doctors, hair dresser and other appointments for the non-class days.

Soon I will be doing some traveling. I refrained from much travel all the years I was caring for mom and dad (over 5 years) because I didn’t want to be too far away in case of emergency. Basically I stayed in the same time zone and not too far from an airport. Now I will be traveling further as I go to the other coast to visit my daughter and her family. It will be a short reprieve from the long list of tasks I am working through.

I feel like my life has been on hold ever since my retirement over 6 years ago because I was so focused on caring for mom and dad. Now that they are gone, I want to move on to the things I had always planned to do “when I retire”. Slowly I am beginning some of those, but most remain as ideas for the future.

Posted in After Death, Caregiving, Probate and Estate Settlement | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

Settling Dad’s Estate

I haven’t posted for awhile so it is time for me to get back on track. I returned home from my Southern vacation three weeks ago. Unfortunately, I caught a bug while flying I think and ended up with a serious cold with bronchitis and more. I am still taking antibiotics to get rid of the remainder of this bug.

I had a long list of tasks to accomplish when I got home. Few have been done because I was so knocked out by my illness. Finally last week I was ready to begin to do some of the things that needed to be done.

First I arranged for one charity to pick up four boxes of dad’s belongings and then a week later I took 7 more bags to the drop-off center for another charity. Since the estate lawyer wants me to document everything that I give away, this is not an easy task. I photograph and list all the items and retain those with the receipts from the charities.

This week was finally warm enough at the same time that I felt well enough and I began to clean out my garage. I found more boxes of dad’s summer clothing, several jackets and other boxes of his belongings all of which did not fit into his Assisted Living apartment. I knew I was storing items at my home, but thought I had already donated most of them. Now I have more boxes and bags to drop off when I get some time and energy to do so.

Another task on my to-do list is taking dad’s televisions to be recycled.  His computer also needs to be recycled, but my son will take care of that.  Dad hadn’t used that computer in 4 years but he refused to let me take it away.

This week I expect to finally get the required papers from the court and then I will be able to open a bank account for dad’s estate. At last I will be able to deposit the refund checks he got from his rent, utilities and other places. And I will be able to pay his medical bills that are all filed in a folder waiting for me to be able to make out a check.

This whole process is taking much longer than it should. But I have no options other than to take things day by day. In one sense I was too busy while I was away and then sick when I got home so it wouldn’t have mattered if I got the proper papers sooner or not. With luck by the end of this week I should be starting the process of settling dad’s probate.

Also earlier this month I had to work on my federal and state taxes and on dad’s federal and state taxes. Since I couldn’t make checks from the estate yet, I had to use my own personal check to pay dad’s taxes. Later I will be reimbursed by the estate.

In the meantime I just learned that the mother of a friend will be moving into the same Assisted Living Facility that dad had been living in. Like so many people, she was adamantly opposed to move into assisted living, even though she was having a lot of difficulty living alone. Her son finally just packed up her belongings and arranged for the move. They are hoping she won’t try to wonder home as she knows the area so well. I hope she finds the companionship makes her feel happier and more comfortable than the loneliness of her own home.

So even as I wind things up for dad, I am an observer of others in the same situation. I feel like I have been too busy to even take the time to grieve for dad. It will hit me in little bits as I am doing other things. I haven’t been back yet to the places where I used to take dad to lunch, or even to his assisted living facility.

Day by day, I am beginning to normalize my life. But I feel that it will take time for me to get used to the idea that I don’t have to be ready to jump and run when the phone rings. Dad is in a better place. Soon I will not have to keep reminding myself that I can really make plans for my own activities now.

Posted in death and dying, Eldercare | Tagged , , , | 14 Comments

Memory Books Contribute to Personalized Care in Hospice

When dad was in the hospital I felt he was not seen as a total person – just a patient. I wanted to bring in pictures of him but there wasn’t any place to put them. In the hospice there was a nice piece of furniture that held not only his clothing, a small refrigerator and a television, but also had many shelves for personal items.

I brought in many of dad’s favorite pictures. I had pictures of mom and dad together, pictures of dad with his brothers in their military uniforms from World War II, etc. In addition, I brought in many of the memory books I had made for mom and dad over the years.

I set the memory books on the shelves, open to pictures of dad also. I also had calendars with pictures of mom and dad that were set up on those shelves. I had them there to make the room feel like home to dad and to us as well.

Soon I realized that all of dad’s caregivers – his doctor, his nurses, his nurses’ aides, etc. had sat down in dad’s room and read his books. Even the social worker knew about dad’s life from reading his memory books.

The doctor told me he thought it was wonderful how they were all able to get to know dad better through the pictures and especially the memory books. The social worker realized that dad was proud to be a US Marine (“once a Marine, always a Marine”). When the Vietnam Veteran called to say he was coming to bring dad a quilt, she told him dad was a Marine, and the veteran volunteer brought dad a quilt specifically made for a Marine.

The wonderful thing about hospice is that all of the caregivers were dedicated to just a few patients. The same caregivers saw dad each day and they got to know him and our family. I believe these memory books were a significant help in allowing dad’s caregivers to get to know him as a person. Even though dad was unable to speak by the time he arrived in hospice, the caregivers all talked to him and talked about the life he had lived and his family as they saw it in the memory books.

So, even though I have written about the importance of memory books before, I want to reiterate how they contributed to dad’s personalized care during his last illness. Now those same books are ours to review and remember the ones who was so important in our lives.

Posted in Caregiving, death and dying, Elder Care, Eldercare, Family, Hospice, Memory Books | Tagged , , , , | 14 Comments

After Dad’s Passing: Part 2

I did not mention a funeral service in my last post about the things I had to do after dad passed. In fact, I had dad cremated and picked up the “cremains” the same day I picked up the death certificates. Again this was much faster and easier than with mom’s passing. Within 3 days I had his death certificates and cremains at my home.

Because most of dad’s friends and all his contemporary cousins, siblings, etc. had pre-deceased him, I wasn’t sure if or where to have a service. I had asked a priest to come to the hospital to see dad within days after his heart attack. The priest gave dad the “last rites” which is now just called the anointing I guess. I am not a Catholic but knew this was important to dad.

I didn’t see any point in having a funeral service locally as dad had spent most of his life in other communities. He only knew our family and the people at his assisted living facility in our town. Everyone else was hundreds or thousands of miles away.

Dad will be interred in the national cemetery with mom. Since this is hundreds of miles from my home I planned to have a memorial service instead of a funeral service. I haven’t yet determined if the memorial service will be in my community so my children can all attend or whether to try to have something near dad’s house hundreds of miles away. We still have many relatives in that area and some of dad’s younger work friends have asked to be notified if there is a service. But travel and arrangements would be much more difficult for me there. Therefore, dad’s memorial service is one more thing I have deferred until later in the spring when I have more energy to deal with it.

You may also notice that I haven’t mentioned my siblings. Neither my sister nor my brother came to see dad before he passed. I am doing all of the paperwork, etc. as well. I get frustrated with the lack of support from them, but this is not new so I am not surprised.

While dad was in the hospital and then hospice, my son’s wife’s grandfather was also very ill. He was expected to live at least 3 more months but instead he passed away just 2 days before dad. So while my son was sitting vigil with me at the hospice, his wife was dealing with her own grief and loss of her grandfather.

Her grandfather’s wake was the day after dad died and his interment was the next day. The only advantage of all this grief at once was that they were able to take 3 days bereavement for each death. My son was late for his wife’s grandfather’s wake because he had been with me at the lawyer’s office. He went with his wife and her family to the funeral service later that evening and the interment the next morning.

As I mentioned last time, I was able to leave my northern home less than a week after dad passed.  I was anxious to flee the cold and snowy weather.  However there were tasks I had to complete before I left.

One of the things I wanted to complete before I left home was dad’s obituary.  I emailed my children for digital pictures as I was too unfocused to find what I wanted. My daughters came through as usual and I had a nice one chosen to send to the newspaper. I decided not to place an obituary locally since dad knew so few people in our community. Instead I had it placed in the newspaper in the community where he lived most of his life. I sent a copy of it also to his assisted living facility and to the mobile home community where he and mom used to spend their winters.

Many relatives and some of dad’s friends saw the obituary in the newspaper and contacted us to ask to be notified if there is a service.

I also still have not finished with dad’s belongings from his apartment at his assisted living facility. When we cleaned out his apartment, I sent all of his furniture to my sister on a moving van. My son and daughter helped me bring home everything else – mostly clothing and personal items. I have them all sitting and waiting in my home. When I get home in the spring I will sort items for donation, etc. I hope to give some of the better items to the organizations that help the homeless and other such charities. Dad had so many warm shirts I am sure they will appreciate them.

Also now I have heard from the legal team that I am supposed to be making an “inventory” of all dad’s belongings at the time of his death. Thank goodness my daughter obtained receipts for the bags of clothing she dropped off at the charity store. I will record the rest of his things (or photograph them for later recording) when I get home.

Although I am physically many miles from my home, my mind still goes back there most days as I contemplate other unfinished business.  I would like to hit the ground running when I return from this respite from the winter weather.

Posted in death and dying | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments