Ten Stories

“In my research, I heard many more than these ten stories of others who experienced surprises (some good, some sad) and frustration when having to deal with moving, downsizing, disability, and even death. Each chapter of the book starts with one of these stories. Although I received permission to use these ‘call to action’ stories, the names have been changed to protect the privacy of the individuals.” – Maureen Williams, author

Personal Information

This chapter of the book is where you will record personal information. This story is something I experienced, not once, but twice in the last ten years.

The year was 2006. The nightmare began when I started receiving late notices for an unpaid utility bill for my Chicago apartment. The problem was I didn’t have an apartment in Chicago. My residence was in Houston, Texas.

My identity had been stolen and the utility bill was the first of many harassing letters insisting I make payment. This was the start of a long process of filing police reports, canceling credit cards, and notifying the three credit reporting agencies to lock down my credit. I spent countless hours ensuring my employer, apartment complex, credit card companies, and even my car mechanic were aware of my situation. Cleaning up my credit report and reclaiming my identity became a part-time job.

I kept notes throughout the process. When my identity was stolen again in 2014, I was better prepared to tackle this serious and annoying situation because my personal information was readily at hand.

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This is a story from one of my cousins in his own words. He shares details of the various and many decisions he and his mother had to make as she required more care over time.

Seven years after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and multiple emergency room trips due to falls, my mother could no longer live by herself. We had tried daytime help with home care aids. However, a large part of the day was left with no onsite help. Fortunately, she had a long-term health care policy to cover a portion of the costs of full-time care at a nursing facility.

While difficult, she recognized her limitations to be truly independent. We were grateful she came willingly to the decision to move. However, another three years passed before she agreed to sell her condo and dispose of her possessions. Fortunately, we sold her condo in an ‘up-market’ which provided much needed financial support to cover her nursing facility costs. We also priced the condo to sell quickly. We were thankful she was actively involved in the whole process and supportive of the financial decisions needed.

Our main issue was the extended time she took to decide how best to dispose of or distribute her stuff. While the emotional attachment can be enormous, most items simply do not have any significant value to others (i.e., 12 place formal dinner settings and sterling silver silverware sets). We were grateful she was able to give her most precious items to family and friends prior to her untimely passing.

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Going through Shayne’s paperwork and all the stuff in his house after the fire would have been less stressful if his important documents could have been found more easily. Shayne’s estate could have been settled sooner if his wishes had been known ahead of time.

Preparation is not just for the elderly or the dying. If this 32-year-old, lost to tragedy, would have known we had all of these questions …

Where does he bank? More than one account? Checking? Savings? Does he have a safe deposit box? If so, where are the keys? Does he have any outstanding loans? Does he owe anyone money? Does anyone owe him money? Who provides his cell phone service? Who is his cable/internet service provider? Who supplies gas and electricity for his home? Does he have any newspaper or magazines subscriptions? What about online accounts? What credit cards does he have and is there a balance due on them? What about the mortgage on his house? Does he have a car payment? Does he have a life insurance policy or an IRA or a 401k?

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This story, from a friend who is a financial advisor in Houston, clearly demonstrates why your important documents should be readily accessible.

Years ago, a client purchased a significant life insurance policy. The premium was paid automatically from his bank account. Over time, the policy was lost in a clutter of papers. The automatic bank payment, however, kept the policy current. When the man could no longer handle his own affairs, his children closed the bank account and moved their father and his assets nearer to one son. When the man died a year later, the children found the life insurance policy among his personal papers. Only then did they learn the policy had been canceled due to non-payment with the bank account closure. The policy was worth over $500,000.

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This story is from a personal friend in Texas about the decisions he and his brother had to make all the while grieving over the death of their mother.

Both brothers knew the day would come when their mother would pass away. She was living in a nursing home for over three years and eventually died there. One brother lived nearby, the other lived in Texas. Although both visited her, she no longer recognized either of them due to Alzheimer’s.

During the week of the funeral, the brothers started piecing together her estate as they went through her house. Much to their surprise, they uncovered life insurance policies they didn’t know existed. They found investment statements with the name of her investment advisor. Although they knew their mother’s attorney, he wouldn’t share much with them while she was still alive.

Along with the grief, the emotional toll was compounded by the time commitment needed to go through her house as they tried to resume their usual work schedules. In the end, the payout for both brothers was extensive with each receiving $500,000. However, no amount of money could have saved them from the grief, emotions, lost time, and anxiety they experienced uncovering all they didn’t know about their mother’s estate and/or wishes. To this day, the brothers aren’t sure they found everything.

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This story is from a personal friend who is a university management professor.

When my friend’s mother passed away in January 2011, she left farm ground and other investments to her three children. The son living on the farm was the executor of the estate. For the next three years, many letters were exchanged among the siblings and various attorneys with requests for valuations, tax returns, and other farming documents. After being asked to sign a Release and Waiver in February 2014, the other son requested an accounting of the estate. The continued correspondence delayed the settling of the estate which should have taken a year or less.

After finally reaching an agreement between the siblings, the estate was settled on May 15, 2014, exactly three years, four months and eleven days since their mother’s passing!

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Making funeral arrangements for a loved one can be difficult. The many decisions needed can be frustrating and overwhelming. The following story is from a personal friend whose mother passed away after a long illness.

Although my friend’s mother had made some of her own funeral arrangements such as deciding on the funeral home, cemetery and even the type of service she wanted, many decisions were left with the surviving family members. If the siblings involved had agreed on the arrangements, the process would have been fine. Unfortunately, they did not.

Some not so pleasant conversations took place regarding the pallbearers, flowers, music, the clothing their mother would be buried in, and even the eulogy. Difficult decisions had to be made at a time when the family members were grieving. This, in turn, caused tempers to flare as the siblings voiced their opinions about what was best for their mother. Unfortunately, most of these conversations took place in the presence of the funeral director. What should have been a day of mourning and respect was anything but that.

In hindsight, the siblings wished they had discussed with their mother what she had wanted, especially since she had been sick for years and everyone knew her funeral was inevitable.

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Personal Property

This chapter is where you start looking at all the pictures hanging on your walls, the furniture in each room, the jewelry, the heirlooms, and all your other stuff. This is your opportunity to identify what is valuable to you and how you want to pass on your belongings. This is the story about my mother’s black tray.

Many years ago, my parents bought a black mosaic tray while traveling through a small town in Spain. While pretty enough, the tray wasn’t, in my opinion, anything special. The tray was displayed on a plate rack mounted close to the dining room ceiling. I had spent plenty of youthful hours, getting up and down a ladder just to dust the tray during household chores.

Then one day, my mother asked me to get the black tray. With ladder in tow, I fetched the tray from its perch and cleaned it as requested. My mother thanked me for retrieving it, but didn’t say anything else.

The next weekend was a family reunion at my sister’s house and my niece from Texas was there. My niece had just completed a semester in Spain on a study abroad college program, and she visited some of the same places my parents had seen many years earlier. I witnessed my mother giving the black tray to my niece while sharing stories of traveling with my father. The experience was beautiful even for those of us just watching. For me, the black tray would have been tagged for ’the auction wagon’ at an estate sale. Now, the tray is a story shared from grandmother to granddaughter.

Take some time to think about your stuff. You just might uncover a story to share.

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This story always gets a laugh in my seminars until the reality of the message sets in.

Early on with this book, I did not have a section on pets until my niece brought the subject to my attention. My niece has two cats. I, on the other hand, have no pets nor do I plan to have any.

When she asked me if I would take her cats if something were to happen to her, I responded, “Absolutely. I will take them to the Animal Protective League as fast as I can get them there.”

She was shocked that I did not want her cats. However, her ‘call to action’ was to now consider options for the care of her pets. My niece was also instrumental in creating this section.

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Real Estate

This story comes from a former colleague. Unfortunately, similar stories like this happen more and more each day.

An elderly wife and husband were both taken by ambulance to the hospital on the same day. The wife had Alzheimer’s and the husband could no longer care for her due to his own ill health. None of the three children lived nearby, so the parents’ house was left untouched for months until the parents resettled in a nursing home.

Due to the cost of the nursing home, the house needed to be sold along with most of their personal possessions. During the actual move was when the siblings found out the house still had a mortgage. The situation was made more difficult because the siblings hadn’t been on speaking terms for years. Their refusal to communicate made hiring outside help necessary to organize and coordinate the sale which further cut into the estate proceeds.

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