Dad passed away in his hospice on a Sunday evening. My children and I went back one last time to see dad and pack up his belongings about 8:30 that evening. After we left, hospice personnel called the undertaker who came and picked up the body.
Less than an hour after I got home that Sunday evening, the telephone rang. It was the undertaker. He said he had just picked up dad’s body and did I want to come in right then to sign the paperwork? I had already met with him in the past and gave him information about dad, his parents, his military experience, etc. I was tired and sad. I said no, I did not want to go in so late on a Sunday evening.
I agreed to meet with him at 9 AM on Monday morning. I called my son and asked him to go with me so that I wouldn’t get emotional and forget the answers to the many questions that might come up. My son and daughter (and dad) had been with me when I made arrangements with mom’s undertaker, over 4 years ago, so he knew what to expect.
It was cold and icy and I also needed my son just to help me walk through the parking lot! The undertaker had all the paperwork carefully prepared and we got right down to business. He must have had 20 forms for me to sign. Most were government forms following federal or state laws that stated that I was not told I was required to purchase an urn, a lined coffin, embalmment, etc. I couldn’t believe how many things they had to show I was not required to purchase.
Now I remember years ago when these laws were passed because funeral homes used to insist that things like embalmment or lined coffins were required by law (and sometimes they were). Then came the era when people wanted to make their own coffins or purchase them cheaper elsewhere and funeral homes balked at that. Now it is clear that the buyer has more rights and thus these forms are used to show we weren’t intimidated into buying more than we wanted.
The next questions had to do with the death certificates and how many did I want. He suggested at least 4 I think, though I got a few more. When mom passed away it seemed like everyone wanted proof of death including banks and insurance companies.
After we were done, my son dropped me off at home but agreed to pick me up after lunch as we were scheduled to meet with the lawyer. I knew the legal process was going to be long and complicated because dad still owned his house hundreds of miles from my community. This meant the estate would have to go through probate.
In addition, I still planned to return to the south and flee the terrible northern weather. I was so overwhelmed with the cold and icy roads and just total sadness. I wanted to do as much as I could quickly and then leave the rest of the process until I returned home in better weather.
As we talked with the lawyer and his legal assistants, I could see this was going to be a lengthy and confusing process. I was very thankful that my son was with me, though he was working with a deadline – as he had to be somewhere else. It took us about 2 ½ hours for the legal team to explain all the steps that had to be taken in order to begin the probate process.
While the will said that I was to be appointed executor, that wasn’t an automatic process. The lawyer had to prepare papers and take them to the court to appoint me as executor. And before that could happen, he had to send a copy of the will to everyone named in the will. And he had to send papers for them to sign saying they do not object to me being named executor. I don’t know what will happen if they don’t sign, but I can’t imagine they want the job!
After those papers come back, the lawyer will file the petition to the court to name me executor. In the meantime, he prepared the petition and had me sign it anyway as if the papers were returned. That way I would be able to leave and return to my winter vacation without waiting for this process to play out.
If anything happens while I am gone, my son will be able to meet with the lawyer in my place to pick up or deliver necessary papers, etc.
Another thing I am supposed to do is to open an estate bank account by closing my father’s other accounts unless they are joint accounts or payable on death. I will also add any money that comes back as refunds for prepaid items like his telephone and cable bills. However, I can’t open the estate bank account until after I am named the executor by the court.
In the meantime, I can’t use the estate bank account to pay any of dad’s bills – like his medical bills. I am uncomfortable waiting to pay all bills, but so far that is what I am doing. The lawyer said I could pay from my own funds and keep good records and have the estate repay me if I need to, but it is better to wait for the estate account to be opened.
One of the things I was worried about was the death certificates. When mom died, a series of errors delayed the death certificates for over a month. The undertaker had put the wrong date of death on the certificate and the doctor did not catch the error. It was in the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas and it seemed impossible to get anyone to move with reasonable speed. It took about 3 to 4 weeks to get the certificates with the error on them and another 3 weeks to get the amended certificates. In the meantime I couldn’t collect insurance or do much else.
I was pleasantly surprised when the undertaker called me two days after we had met. The death certificates had already arrived. I drove over and picked up all the copies. What a relief! One more anticipated problem was avoided!
I called the law office to see if the petitions I was to sign were ready yet. I reminded them that I wanted to leave town as soon as possible to get to a warmer climate. They worked hard to accommodate me and by late Thursday they had the petitions ready to sign.
I had purchased airplane tickets for Friday with little faith that I would actually get out that quickly. However, it seems that just by setting a deadline, I made things move along faster and it all worked out. My son drove me to the airport on Friday.
Less than a week after dad passed away I had gotten away from the winter weather and resumed my aborted vacation in the south! I could hardly believe it, even as I disembarked from the airplane. My next door neighbor told me I got out just in time as there was over a foot of snow the next day and the airport had been totally closed down!
I still have a lot to do in terms of settling dad’s estate. However, for the time being I am taking a much needed break. I have friends here in this southern community and they are all very supportive of my loss. In addition, many friends from home have also sent me notes and cards.
I know I will have a lot of work waiting for me when I return home, but in the meantime I am avoiding this winter of unending snow and extreme cold.