How did I get here?
As I think about the past 2 years of my life, I am left with more questions than answers.
Where did this diagnosis come from?
The prognosis is WHAT?!
This medicine costs HOW MUCH?!
I've only got five more months?
He was getting better; how did this happen?
Will we ever know?
A mother and a brother, both gone in eight months’ time. After my father’s passing 13 years before, I now find myself the only one left of our little branch of the family tree. The only one left.
What started as the loss of my mother and very best friend left me grief stricken and paralyzed with emotions I was not prepared to deal with. Then, I found myself eyeballs deep in a situation I was absolutely ill-equipped to take on…settling her affairs.
With no will or estate planning documents of any kind, I was left at the mercy of state laws that made the loss of a loved one a true chore. While I should have been grieving the loss of my mother, my mentor and my best friend, I found myself in meeting after meeting with attorneys and financial advisors, collecting documentation and making endless phone calls, retelling the story of her death over and over and over again, form after form needing my signature. We played a hurry-up-and-wait game of completing a pre-determined set of requirements on the Court’s timeline. When I should have been celebrating my Mom’s life, I found myself with an overwhelming task of even just figuring out where to begin.
Early on, I decided to hire an estate attorney, and it's the best choice I've ever made. The attorney was with me from the first moments, guiding me on how to navigate my "new normal." With her assistance, I took on the nearly full-time job of managing everything from Mom's life. House, car, bank accounts, credit cards, brokerage accounts, medical bills, utility bills, cancelling services, closing accounts, transferring titles, clearing out a home of a lifetime of stuff, and so on and so on and so on. The list grew every day, and the items needing my attention seemed to never end. Having secured an estate attorney meant I had help every step of the way, even as the tasks kept adding up!
Then, just as it seemed like things were winding down and Mom’s affairs were being marked off the list, my younger brother died unexpectedly. Even with the best of intentions to get documents prepared for ourselves after our mother’s death, he passed without a Will or any legal documents of any kind. The process started All. Over. Again. Meetings, documents, phone calls, signatures, money, grieving (or trying) through it all.
My Estate Administration process started in May of 2017 and it is still not over.
If I could leave you with two final thoughts based on my story, it would be these:
ONE - No matter how old you are, no matter if you have children or not, no matter your financial status, no matter what: make a plan! Have your documents prepared and rest easy knowing that you are allowing your loved ones to carry out your wishes without the mentally (and financially) taxing responsibility of settling your affairs. I have spent every day since the loss of my loved ones encouraging people to get their documents prepared. It is THAT important!
TWO - Hire an attorney. Having an estate attorney did not take away the pain or grief. She could not wave a magic wand and make all the terribleness disappear. But, knowing she was in my corner every step of my journey gave me the support I needed and the reassurance that I was handling all these tasks appropriately. I cannot imagine going through the past two years without my attorney!
Do you have a similar story of trying to navigate the probate and estate administration minefield after losing a family member? Do you remember struggling to make sense of the process? Did you ever have a day where you got mad at the person who died - mad because they didn't make a plan while they were alive, which meant you had to clean up the mess left behind?
There is healing in sharing your story. There are lessons we all can learn.
We'd love to read your comments and hear about your experiences.