I have never blogged before, so my first question to Wendy was “How long does it have to be?” “At least 600 words,” she said. A little like writing a paper I suppose. Wendy asked me to be the guest blogger this week because I handled my mother’s estate when she died in 2009. I don’t recall everything, but will give you a general description of my experience.
Mom was 90 when she died. She lived a long and meaningful life, widowed at age 50, left with my brother in college and me in high school. She really did remarkably well to get through all the struggles she must have had. She was a case worker for DSS so I really don’t know how we made it financially but somehow she figured it all out. Looking back, I wasn’t the easiest teenager to raise, caught up in my own insecurities that go along with being 16, now fatherless, and trying to figure out how to navigate all the feelings and issues I had back then.
As the years passed, Mom moved to a retirement home, living independently for a number of years, then moving to assisted living, and then dementia care until two weeks before her death at a local nursing home. She lived in the same town as I did so I wound up handling most of her affairs as the years passed. My brother and I were always in sync as far as care and support, and I kept him fully informed of all I was doing. I think it’s important that family members are aware of and prepared for how an estate will be handled.
Her estate was straightforward. All of the documents were in place, including her will, and her will was very clear that my brother and I were to “share and share alike.” Of course, there are often family mementos that don’t necessarily have monetary value but have a great deal of sentimental value. Fortunately, my brother and I had no issues to resolve, and Mom had already given each of us some things that she wanted us to have. I had been handling her business affairs for several years and was fully aware of all of her assets, bank accounts, etc.
While everything was in order, there was still a process to go through to settle the estate. But before that there is dealing with grief while making funeral arrangements. Being from the small town of Chesterfield, South Carolina, I called Phillip Caulder, a longtime friend, at Miller-Rivers-Caulder Funeral Home and set that process in motion. Mom was to be buried a few days later, delayed a little because my daughter was recovering from surgery.
You find yourself dealing with business and sadness at the same time and that can be challenging. Experts advise to have as much as possible arranged in advance so that basic decisions are already made (coffin, level of service, etc.). It’s tempting to make those decisions emotionally in the days immediately following loss. Paying for the funeral wasn’t an issue. I don’t recall how we paid for the funeral. I think that the funeral home let us pay once we got the estate account open, but that’s very fuzzy. We may have paid and got reimbursed by the estate.
At some point shortly after her death, I visited the Greenwood County Probate office. I had the will and the death certificate along with other authorizations that I didn’t really need. Since everything was straightforward, we quickly received the necessary authorization to go to the bank and transfer funds as needed. I believe I received about 6 copies of the authorization so that I could use as needed. In addition to the banks, investment accounts and other assets needed similar authorization.
It was a fairly routine process. We had to advertise for any claims against her estate. We had one claim – from an ambulance transport company. We provided detailed financial information and received the approval to settle. All assets have to be valued, including valuations of real estate and any other non-monetary assets. A local attorney prepared a deed of distribution on real estate owned by Mom and it went to my brother and me. I had to visit financial institutions where she had accounts and get that distributed as well. At that point it was just a matter of my brother and I dividing it in half. Actually, he got 1 cent more than me!
Overall, I thought the process went smoothly. The probate office was very helpful and the funeral home handled everything extremely well. I don’t recall exactly how long the process took but I don’t think it was overly long. The main thing is to be prepared in advance and know where all the assets are.