Found Money   Leave a comment

Unclaimed funds.  I never understood this.  Why would any sane person who is not in a witness protection program not claim money that was rightfully theirs? It seems to me that “unclaimed” is just a euphemism for “we-forgot-to-tell-you-that-we-have-your-money-and-are-keeping-it-for-you.”

States require banks, insurance companies, utilities and many other companies to turn over inactive accounts. The state then serves as custodian for the funds until they are claimed.

Our estate lawyer suggested that I search the data bases of the states my parents lived in to see if there were any unclaimed funds.  Searching for unclaimed funds is easy and it is free. The states publish the information and it is readily available online.

Sure enough, I found and recovered a couple hundred dollars that belonged to my father. The state data base had his full name and address.  Again, I can’t figure out why they didn’t just send him the money or at least a notification while he was alive, but they didn’t.

There are multiple services online now that offer assistance, but they require your email and I assume, ultimately a fee to recover the money that they found for free. Recovering the found funds should not cost you anything either.

Tips:  Checking for unclaimed funds is something you can do for your parents while they are alive.  Be sure to check for alternate spellings and check in all states where they lived and might have had a bank account.  In fact, this is so easy, you should do it for yourself while you are at it!

Information found on this web site is for general informational purposes only based on personal experience and should not be construed as legal, tax or other professional advice. You should consult an experienced attorney , tax professional or financial advisor concerning your particular factual situation and any specific questions you may have.

You’re wearing that?   Leave a comment

Clothes.  I remember when I was growing up my mother would occasionally say to me, “You’re wearing that?”  Her meaning was clear.  She did not like the outfit ~ usually because she thought it did not flatter me.   My mother had been a professional clothing buyer and had exquisite fashion sense.

She was very tall and in the 1960’s and 1970’s, most of the department stores and boutiques did not sell clothes in her size, so she learned to sew.  She always said that she didn’t want to wear clothes that looked like they had been made by “loving hands at home,”  so some of her early efforts were given away. Her first sewing project were  mother/daughter dresses ~ identical dresses that she made for herself and me.  My father did not like the way hers looked on her so she gave her dress to our housekeeper. I kept my dress.  While I loved our housekeeper and was happy to be twins with her, I was a bit jealous when my mother kept the next dress which matched one that she made for my sister Jodie.

My mother became an extremely accomplished seamstress.  However, as she got older, much to her delight, stores started stocking clothes in her size and the catalog business made all sizes available to everyone. My mother had so many clothes that when she moved into the independent living facility, she converted the bathtub to a full double-door closet bringing her total of double-door clothing closets to four.

Converting the tub to a closet was a clever way to utilize space that would otherwise go unused.  My mother’s apartment had two showers and she was unable to get in and out of the tub, so a clothing closet was the perfect solution.

When each of my parents died, there was an enormous amount of clothing to get rid of.  If there are family members who wear the same size, the task could be made easier by giving them the clothes they want.  It is much easier with men, because blazers and button down shirts fit into most men’s wardrobes.  I found with my mother’s clothes that even if I had worn the same size, which I did not, I would not have wanted the clothes as they were not sufficiently youthful or appropriate for my lifestyle. I could just hear my mother saying, “You’re wearing that?”

None-the-less, I felt that I wanted some clothes to remind me of my mother.  I took a few shirts which I use for gardening, but the real treasure trove was in the accessories.  Scarves, pocketbooks and gloves for women and ties for men.  When we were kids, we would make beautiful costumes out of my mother’s scarves which smelled of her perfume so I was delighted to take as many scarves as I could. Oh, and I took the built-in Singer sewing machine/desk.  This despite the fact that I seriously don’t have the foggiest notion of how to use it.

We donated the bulk of both my mother and father’s clothing to charity.  There was a sufficient amount of clothing so that we were able to have it picked up in both instances.

Tips: Call around to see what charities will pick up wardrobes.  Be sure to have an inventory if you are planning on taking a tax deduction for the donation.

Information found on this web site is for general informational purposes only based on personal experience and should not be construed as legal, tax or other professional advice. You should consult an experienced attorney , tax professional or financial advisor concerning your particular factual situation and any specific questions you may have.

One Ringy-Dingy   Leave a comment

Telephones.  In the early 70’s, Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In was a big favorite in our house.  In particular, we liked Lily Tomlin’s Ernestine who’s catch phrase was,  ‘One Ringy-Dingy’ and who snorted when she laughed. We thought the woman stuck in the old-fashioned era of telephone operators was hilarious.

My parents were hip and modern and not stuck in some bygone era where phones required operator assistance.  They made a graceful transition to the age of telephones. This was a time when the only kind of telephone was what we now refer to quaintly as a land line. We had one telephone number and several telephones in our house.

Then came car phones.  We considered it a luxury and we never had one. Over time cell phones became more prevalent until  there was virtual ubiquity.  My father never had one.  My mother finally broke down and purchased a cell phone for emergencies.  This phone stayed in her pocketbook, drained of its charge, for over a year.  Finally, she put it in the cradle at home to charge and it stayed there for another couple of years happily charging away.

My mother finally found a use for her cell phone when she went into the hospital.  It was purely a cost-benefit analysis. Hospitals began charging usurious rates for local and long distance calls.  Having a cell phone enabled my mother to make calls for a cheaper rate and allowed her the flexibility to make calls when the hospital phones were shut off.

So, in the end, my mother was hip and modern again and totally facile with her new-fangled cell phone.

Tip:  Be sure to cancel cell phone service as well as home telephone service.  You may be due a pro-rated refund for the last month of service.

Information found on this web site is for general informational purposes only based on personal experience and should not be construed as legal, tax or other professional advice. You should consult an experienced attorney , tax professional or financial advisor concerning your particular factual situation and any specific questions you may have.

Locked Out   Leave a comment

Safe Deposit Boxes.  Remember Al Gore’s lock box and the SNL spoof?  Lots of people have lock boxes where they store valuable items and papers. My parents had a safe deposit box at a local bank which they referred to as the vault. It was a tiny box at a local bank. It required two keys, one that my parents had and one that the bank provided upon request to enter.  There were two sets of doors and it was all very secret and secure.  The contents were far less mysterious, a pocket watch that my father inherited and some papers.

My parents’ bank had a manual system for recording box owners. It was a locked drawer filled with 3 x 5 cards with owners and signatures for each box.  I was on the list to have access, but the bank had misplaced my signature card.  I was able to gain access to the box using power of attorney before my mother died.  I took everything out of the box as I did not know when I would be able to get back there.

I tried in vain to turn in the keys as I was leaving the bank and explained that the box was empty.  However, the bank employee on duty refused to take them. She told me that in order to close out a box witnesses were needed and they did not have sufficient staff that day.

Several weeks later after multiple phone calls to the branch manager, I brought the box keys to a Virginia branch of the bank and they inter-office mailed them to New Jersey where the box was finally closed out.  At that point, I received a frantic phone call from a bank employee who told me that when they opened the box “it was EMPTY!”   For a moment I considered feigning shock and anger but thought the better of it.

Important things to note: If your parent is receiving Social Security, they will notify the bank of your parent’s death quickly.  Boxes are sealed and power-of-attorney ceases upon death of the principal.  While the executor assumes the legal rights and access to the box, there is usually a lag time between death and when the executor is appointed.

Tips: The easiest way to prevent ever being locked out of a safe deposit box is to open them in the name of a corporation instead of a person – as corporations never die.  Whether the box is in a corporation’s name or individual’s, there are things you can do while your parents are still alive to prepare you for your eventual role as executor. Make sure that the documentation at the bank is up-to-date and includes all of the necessary signatures.  If your parent has moved recently, check with them to make sure that they moved the location of their lock box to a more convenient branch location concurrent with their physical move. Finally, as executor you will have to close out the box and, you will be charged for missing keys.  There are usually two keys, try to find them both.  Get a receipt or other form of acknowledgement when you return them.

Information found on this web site is for general informational purposes only based on personal experience and should not be construed as legal, tax or other professional advice. You should consult an experienced attorney , tax professional or financial advisor concerning your particular factual situation and any specific questions you may have.

Advanced Calculus   1 comment

Advanced Directives.  My parents completed living wills or advanced directives many years before they died.  Their living wills clearly delineated what their wishes were in the event of a life-threatening event or illness.  Appropriately, they discussed the living wills with my sister and me and we were named as executors.  Despite all of this advanced planning, we ran into trouble with my mother’s living will.

My mother had given her living will to me and I had promptly taken it to Virginia and put it in our safe deposit box – per her instructions.  When I went to New Jersey to take her to the hospital for what turned out to be the last time, I neglected to bring it with me.

My mother was really on the ball and she knew that we needed to bring the advanced directive with us to the hospital. Luckily, she produced a copy of it! We turned it in at the hospital and they put it in a binder with my mother’s name on it. As my mother’s condition deteriorated, my sister and I were poised to make some medical decisions and we instructed the hospital to follow the advanced directive which clearly outlined our mother’s wishes.  It was then that they informed us that the copy which we submitted had not been executed or to put it in English, it was unsigned and therefore null and void.

We then began a series of tortured calculations to determine how we might get the signed copy.  My husband could get it from our safe deposit box in Virginia and either drive it or FedEx it to me.  Alternatively, we could speak with the in-house hospital lawyers during regular business hours to essentially create a new living will.  When you are in a situation where minutes or hours matter, having the original FedExed or talking to the hospital lawyers really doesn’t cut it. As it turns out, we never needed to invoke the living will.

Tips: Keep the signed copy of the advanced directive with your parent and in a place that is easily accessible to you and them. Put it in a folder with all other important medical documents and have it handy for doctor’s visits and hospital check-ins.

Information found on this web site is for general informational purposes only based on personal experience and should not be construed as legal, tax or other professional advice. You should consult an experienced attorney , tax professional or financial advisor concerning your particular factual situation and any specific questions you may have.

Hide and Seek   Leave a comment

Wills.  My parents had a belief, common to their generation, that you should squirrel away your will in a place that was difficult to access.  I’m not sure why this belief took hold – perhaps it was based on the fear that some unscrupulous heir would find the will and use white-out to change the will to their advantage.

Whatever the reason, people tend to hide or at a minimum store their wills under lock and key.  As an executor, you do not want to be playing hide and seek with your deceased parent.  If you can not locate the deceased’s will the estate will go into probate.  This is exactly what a will is supposed to prevent.

Tip: You should determine the location of the original copy of your parent’s will before they die.  This conversation is not about the content of the will and should not be contentious. If there is a safe deposit box involved, be sure to find out where the key is, the location of the box, and the number of the box.

Information found on this web site is for general informational purposes only based on personal experience and should not be construed as legal, tax or other professional advice. You should consult an experienced attorney , tax professional or financial advisor concerning your particular factual situation and any specific questions you may have.

You’re Driving Me Crazy   1 comment

For a long time I thought that octogenarians should not be allowed to drive as I felt they were a menace on the road.  But, as I creep up in the years (and decades) my position has mellowed.  I realize that I will never willingly give up my right to drive and that my daughter will have to pry my car keys out of my cold hands when I am gone.

The fact of the matter is that many elderly people have cars and continue to drive them until the day they die. This leaves the task of getting rid of the cars to the executor.

My friend Dwight tells a funny story about his mother who had leased a car shortly before she died. No one in the family cared to assume the lease and Dwight was in charge of returning the virtually new car to the dealership.  When he called them to discuss his predicament, he was told that there were no provisions for returning a leased car that early in the lease. Dwight patiently explained that his mother had died and that he would be returning the car with the keys to the dealership the next day.  The dealer continued to protest and finally, Dwight told the dealer that if he cared to take it up with his mother, who they had just buried, he should go for it.  And furthermore, if the dealer was successful in reaching her, Dwight would like the phone number.  Dwight returned the car, keys and a set of pictures documenting the excellent condition of the car to the dealership the next day.

Often, a family member may be interested in taking or purchasing the car.  When my mother died she had a car which we took.  The car was paid for in total and in great working condition, but had a lot of dings and dents.  My mother had not been in a major accident, however, a truck had backed into her car while it was parked in a parking lot and other assorted mishaps had occurred. She knew there were cosmetic problems but never got around to having the car repaired as it did not affect her ability to drive it.  When we got the car checked out, we discovered that the frame was bent – which seriously devalued the car. It didn’t prevent us from driving the car but it was great information to have.

There are many ways to sell a car. A car can be sold back to the dealership, as my mother did with my father’s beloved convertible when he became incapacitated and could no longer drive. I know people who have used Craigslist and even ebay to sell and buy cars.  I have found the easiest, although not necessarily the most lucrative way to sell a car, is CarMax. Another consideration for disposing of cars is to donate the car to an organization like DonateACar.  It’s free, they pick up the car the next day, you get a tax deduction for the market value of the car and you get  to select from a range of charities to donate your car to.

Tips: Don’t forget to cancel the driver’s license, registration, E-ZPass and car insurance of the deceased. Be sure to officially change the title with the DMV if you are taking possession. Get the car checked out before you take possession and make necessary fixes.  Be sure the insurance company knows that the issues were not caused by you so your rates do not go up. Finally, don’t forget to thoroughly search the car for any belongings and don’t forget to take out the cd’s.

Information found on this web site is for general informational purposes only based on personal experience and should not be construed as legal, tax or other professional advice. You should consult an experienced attorney , tax professional or financial advisor concerning your particular factual situation and any specific questions you may have.

In The Dog House   Leave a comment

My sister Jodie reminds me that pets are people too.  All pet owners want a loving home for their pets when they are no longer around to care for them. See Jodie’s post below.

For many older people living alone, Fido is their best friend.  Knowing their pet will be loved forever and given that well deserved kibble will give them peace of mind.  Making arrangements for a pet can be a difficult decision, the best option, is a friend or family member, especially if they already know and love the pet.

If this is not possible, purebreds from Basset Hounds to Great Danes may be able to be returned to the breeder, as all reputable breeders will always take back their animals.  If this won’t work, purebred, or even dogs that are a little this and a lot of that, but predominantly one breed can be turned into purebred rescues.

The last option of course is turning them into a no-kill organization such as the North Shore Animal League America or the ASPCA.

Making these plans well in advance will make both Fido and Fido’s mom or dad feel much more comfortable, and these plans should be discussed and written down so everyone knows for sure what the plan is, and if it includes any special drugs or health routine.   Money can be set aside for  Fido’s health and well-being  for food and trips to the groomer, and this should be discussed and written down, too.

 

Jodie, Dixie and Cody

No pet lover would willingly forget to make arrangements for their pets ~ however, some may not be specific enough about it or make assumptions that are not feasible.  Sometimes, the best laid plans can go wrong.  As a Board member of San Francisco Samoyed Rescue, I rescued a 10-year-old female Samoyed, Dixie, who was returned to the breeder when the person who had promised to take Dixie changed her mind.  But as you can see, her loss was my gain.

 

Tip: Check with veterinarians in your area as they often know of families that are looking for a pet.

 

 

 

Information found on this web site is for general informational purposes only based on personal experience and should not be construed as legal, tax or other professional advice. You should consult an experienced attorney , tax professional or financial advisor concerning your particular factual situation and any specific questions you may have.

It’s None of Your Business   Leave a comment

“It’s none of your business.”  That is what my mother told me when I first asked about my parents will. And my father agreed with her.

Then, with a twinkle in her eye she said, “What are you planning to do with the money?” I protested that it was not about the money, I was 40 years old, had a Wharton MBA and felt I deserved to know what their plans were.

Then, as she was enjoying the back and forth she went into mock  Jewish guilt trip mode.  “What did we do to deserve this?” ” “Haven’t we been good parents?” And finally, “Do you want me and your father dead?”

The fact was that both of my parents were healthy at the time and honestly didn’t see the necessity in involving me in their estate planning.  I wasn’t even the executor of their wills at that point. My mother was toying with me, but at the same time, she didn’t give me the information I sought.

The early conversations did not go well from my perspective, although I am sure they went swimmingly from my parents’ perspective. But, little by little, over a period of months I began to chip away at their defenses.  I explained that I was interested in understanding their desires as it related to their assets and that they didn’t have to tell me the dollar amounts if that made them uncomfortable. They, meanwhile, had rewritten their will and made my sister and me co-executors of the surviving spouse’s will.  By the time my father had his stroke, my mother was completely willing to talk with me about all aspects of their estate planning.

This is a conversation that you should have while your parents are alive and well.

Tip: Be persistent. Find out what the objection is to having the conversation and try to allay fears.  Use a variety of approaches.  Ask with your siblings present. Explain the importance.  Tell worst-case scenarios. Explain the benefits of maintaining their legacy.

Information found on this web site is for general informational purposes only based on personal experience and should not be construed as legal, tax or other professional advice. You should consult an experienced attorney , tax professional or financial advisor concerning your particular factual situation and any specific questions you may have.

Writing the Wrong   Leave a comment

In Why We Write About Grief from The New York Times on February 27, Joyce Carol Oates and Meghan O’Rourke speak about why they wrote books about the deaths of their loved ones ~ husband and mother respectively. I understand why people write about losing loved ones. Before this blog, I wrote lengthy emails about the declining state of first my father’s health, then my mother’s health and then my own health with my cancer diagnosis to a small group of friends and family.  I had a fantasy that I could write away the wrong that was occurring and at the same time, it grounded me in the reality of it.

I found that carrying out my role as executor had many of the same benefits that writing about grief has ~ it is cathartic and therapeutic.  Importantly, it helped to keep me connected to my parents.  In many ways, I continued to learn about my mother and father by sorting through their belongings, reading their mail and speaking with their friends.

Tip: There are positive aspects to being an executor and helping to settle a loved one’s estate.  Celebrate the connectedness. Preserve their memory. Believe that they would have been proud of the job you are doing.

Information found on this web site is for general informational purposes only based on personal experience and should not be construed as legal, tax or other professional advice. You should consult an experienced attorney , tax professional or financial advisor concerning your particular factual situation and any specific questions you may have.