No, I’m not talking about spiritual continuity after this life is over. I’m talking about the bureaucratic tasks that remain for those the departed leave behind. It’s the front end of that bureaucratic mess that I’m bogged down in now.
Even when someone has done extensive preparations, as my mother did before her death last month, there’s still a lot to do.
It starts right after someone dies. Within hours, the mortuary wants to settle on desired “arrangements” and get their check. That’s the first step. In my mom’s case, this was relatively simple. Cremation. Immediate. That is, no “viewing” necessary prior to cremation. Container? In her case, a simple cardboard box which delivered her to the crematorium. Apparently the body can’t go in without the box. What urn? Again, a simple container. Her remains will stay there until later in the spring when we’ll scatter them out near the Diamond Head buoy in the same area where we spread her brother quite a few years ago now. It’s what she wanted, so that’s what we’re doing.
The mortuary also triggers two other important bits. First, there’s the obituary. A simple, brief death announcement is free. Just the basic facts. If you want more, something that really says something real about the person who has died, you’re at the mercy of the newspaper monopoly. We stayed with the freebie. The rest appeared here, and on my sister’s blog.
Second, and more important, the mortuary files paperwork for the death certificate, the official one-page document from the State Department of Health that proves one is really dead. As we have discovered, you need this in order to deal with the basics. The process stalls until the death certificates are ready. And, we were warned, DOH takes several weeks to deliver them. The warnings were correct. It took several weeks.
The certificates are needed for just about everything. Social Security was about the only place that didn’t require a death certificate. I telephoned to inform them of my mother’s passing. They took the information, expressed condolences, and contacted Bank of Hawaii to retrieve the most recent payment that had been auto deposited.
However, every one else seems to need a death certificate. The state’s employee retirement system, banks, investment accounts, etc., all need the documentation.
So my mother’s trust attorney, who we are relying on to guide us through the process of settling her estate, advised us to delay our initial consultation until the DOH delivered the certificates. No use spinning our wheels without that essential document.
They finally came in last week and our appointment is on Friday. I’ve got the “inventory” forms and am trying to reconstruct my mother’s finances. Checking accounts. Savings accounts. Certificates of Deposit. Stocks, some in investment accounts, some held individually. A lot in a few places. A few dollars in others. But they have to be located. Other assets. A seven year old car. Furniture. A mountain of genealogical research. A little jewelry, most of the costume variety. Real property? Just the house. All complicated by the fact that she had been slowly consolidating, while her careful filing of records didn’t keep up. I just can’t pin down the status of some accounts. We’ll have to rely on the banks to search their records to confirm the accounts. Trust your banker. Not much else you can do.
Hopefully I’ll have it all together by Friday and ready for the lawyer, who will hopefully then prepare the documentation we need to begin closing accounts and collecting all the various assets for eventually distribution according to my mom’s wishes.
Somewhere along the way, I’ll have to prepare her 2012 taxes. And then figure out about the taxes covering the 29 days of 2013 before her death. Yes, that thing about death and taxes? It appears that the tax part goes on after the death part.
Meanwhile, there’s the ongoing process of clearing out her house. My sister, Bonnie, is taking the lead as she’s been living in my parents house for most of the past five years, providing hands-on care as they reached the end. It’s a process of discovery. What’s in this box/closet/drawer/etc? File, as appropriate, in one of several categories: trash…thrift store…garage sale…appraise…family heirloom…help, further review needed. It’s likely to be a long, convoluted process.
I wasn’t being flippant in suggesting that dying is a lot of work for the living. That’s just the way it is.