Here’s part two of the great information from guest blogger Gary Newman, maven of finances related to end-of-life issues.
If you’ve found a way to avoid dying, please tell us how. If not, and because dying is part of living, like all the other phases of life, the events that it triggers need deciding and planning.
Last time we started to explore ideas, so let’s continue with some of mine. How about yours?
In planning a funeral or memorial service, have you noticed the trend toward less-formal, more-interactive events, perhaps graveside instead of in a chapel, emphasizing the celebration of life, and encouraging loved ones to participate? This can produce some remarkable heartthrobs and memorial tributes, and can help with “closure.”
At Dad’s funeral, without advance notice, suddenly I was asked to speak. Surprise! Ad lib and uninhibitedly my heart took over from my brain and burst forth, filling the temple with love and admiration for Dad, gems I’d never before –- or since — spoken or experienced so profoundly. In fact, the speech that I prepared for Mom’s funeral wasn’t nearly as moving. Inspiring deepest heartfelts like this are what memorial gatherings should do.
Please arrange for house-sitting for family members during the events. Newspaper death notices are among Bubba the Burglar’s favorite sources of targets.
About aged and infirm family members, friends, associates, and former employees: Our loved ones were loved ones to many of them, too. They long to attend, but they need transportation and assistance. In their own shrinking, darkening worlds, we can save them from the despair and frustration of being unable to be there. Let’s offer them a compassionate helping hand. In fact, folks who need special physical, and emotional TLC are in even greater need of help during this time of grief and despair, whether attending the events or not.
“Inter-active” and “participatory” don’t mean “uncontrolled.” The services can be structured adequately to feel complete, but to prevent them from dragging on endlessly or burdensomely. Everyone respects gentle, but firm, leadership in managing the order of service. Invite folks to speak, but specify the list and the order of appearance in advance, and let it be known.
If there are too many speakers, select one to represent each segment of the person’s world, or perhaps cut the list off after immediate family. Or invoke some other fair and balanced criterion by relationship, or to represent a group, rather than offend someone by favoring some individuals participation and rejecting others.
Funeral services should be short. “Adequate” needn’t be uncomfortably long. Officiators, funeral directors and cemetery traffic directors have tight schedules, too. There are no restroom facilities in most cemeteries, nor is there space for chairs for all attendees. Mother Nature doesn’t always provide sunny, warm weather. Recitations, speeches, and rituals that are regretfully omitted in the interest of time and comfort are instead welcome at indoor, comfortable, conveniently-scheduled memorial services and at home gatherings.
Alternatively, they can be preserved in paper, video, and cyber “memory-books” compiled by family and friends — or with professional help from a personal historian or memoirist. Everyone, participant or not, can be encouraged to contribute their closure remarks via e-mail, social media, or paper mail for the memory book and memoir, and also in messages accompanying their memorial charitable contributions, and even via fee-paid newspaper “in memoriams.”
Why not include music, maybe Loved One’s favorite inspirational pieces?
When someone dies there’s a rush to notify everyone in his or her world. How better it is, and less stressful, to organize a well-prepared telephone squad to stand ready for death to occur, each prepared with a list of calls to make, and each recruiting more callers from their list. And the calls needn’t wait until the arrangements are known, either. People can be told simply to contact the funeral company for information when it becomes available.
Into the doomsday manual, the more detailed advance information about funeral and burial arrangements, the people that are involved, instructions, contact data, contract terms, obit, bio, and epitaph content, the better. Eliminating stress, uncertainty, conflict, discovery time-waste, errors, wrong decisions, this is indeed a gift of compassion to the family.
Even the dying and the recently-deceased (and ultimately their heirs, of course) need protection from Bubba’s colleagues, the financial predators. It’s sometimes even easier for a predator to invade their credit and cash accounts than the accounts of fully alert and vigilantly active people. Social Security publishes the names and Social Security numbers of its insureds who have died, newspapers carry death notices. Dishonest health-care providers discover and exploit helpless clients’ financial information. Unscrupulous merchants take advantage of customers known to be unable to monitor their own finances, and so on. Phishers cleverly deceive the unaware on the Internet.
Professional estate and trust fiduciaries routinely strive to notify deceased’s account providers and the three credit rating agencies of clients’ deaths, as a top priority, but they’re “on the meter.” More important, they must await legal empowerment and/or the necessary account and security information. By that time the damage often already has been done. Therefore, even before the end-of-life person dies, the family, preferably the person holding legal financial power, can:
- Find out, hopefully from the end-of-life person’s doomsday manual, the account and security codes, passwords, and keywords, information that’s needed in order to deal with account providers. Share it with the PR and any other fiduciaries.
- Close accounts that won’t be needed any more.
- Delete un-needed authorized users from financial accounts, including the person him/herself.
- Line-item inspect account statements immediately upon their arrival.
- Alert credit providers and the three credit reporting agencies to the person’s declining condition and the nature of future transactions that are to be expected, and to reject others. Send them copies of your legal authority to act in their behalf. Credit account providers’ addresses and phone numbers are on their statements.
The credit agencies’ addresses are:
Equifax: P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, GA 30374
TransUnion: P.O. Box 6790, Fullerton, CA 92834
Experion: P.O. Box 9530, Allen, TX 75013
- Pull credit reports, via the official website: annualcreditreport.com. You’ll need security info. Fine-tooth them, looking for problems and surprise assets and liabilities.
- Even if the person already has died, do all the account notifications that you can right away. Do them yourself, with family help, because you can before the estate’s fiduciaries can.
- Remove and safe-keep (not destroy — they contain useful data) computer memories and other electronic devices containing sensitive information as soon as the person no longer will be using them, even if long before death.
- Make up a “Mayday” file, with a copy into the doomsday manual, describing all substantial assets and financial accounts, showing account numbers, serial numbers, and contact information. Call it “The Mayday File,” because this info will be needed during mental or physical disability, often sudden, as well as at death.
Several help-desk companies have sprung up, offering for a fee to help you by alerting all of the person’s vendors to flag them, in order to prevent identity theft. If you Google “password account numbers notifications at death,” you’ll find several. But, it seems to me that if hackers can raid Target’s, Home Depot’s, and South Carolina’s data, they can penetrate the help-desks, too, regardless of anti-hack firewalls, and regardless of how cyber-secure the companies think they are. Isn’t a “telephone squad,” family members and friends, equipped with the security information readily available in the doomsday manual, a better way to disseminate immediate alerts quickly and safely?
More next time — stay tuned! Meanwhile, what can I learn from you?
Gary Newman is an actively retired life underwriter and practitioner of related family and small business financial security disciplines. He holds degrees from the Wharton School of Finance at the University of Pennsylvania and the American College of Life Underwriters, and is an emeritus member of the Washington, D.C. Estate Planning Council and several other professional societies. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.