Where Grief and Admin Co-exist
Where Grief and Admin Co-exist
Who is the executor of your estate? You know, the person who will administer your will? I remember my husband Norbert telling people “…and the first thing she did after we sold up and moved, was draaaag me along to the lawyers to draw up a new will.” This was said with that teasing element to his voice that told me he didn’t mind but that he thought I was just being typically over-efficient and he was magnanimously going along with what I wanted based on the ‘Happy Wife, Happy Life principle’. 😋 “What’s your rush?” he said.
Three years later, and he was gone. No warnings, no time to prepare anything or make any changes or plans. Just the Police standing at my door telling me he had already died.
Read: The Day My Heart Broke
I’ve written a lot about the emotions in those times, but this time I want to share some of the practicalities and harsh realities. Flicking back briefly to 2015 and that visit to the lawyer, there was a discussion about who would act as the executor of each of our Estates. We both chose family members to cover the eventuality of us both dying at the same time (eg a car accident) but if one of us would die before the other, we decided (like many other couples) that it made sense for each of us to look after each other’s Estate.
Of course it made sense! Who is the person you trust the most? Who is the one who would know what you would want? Who is the one who knows exactly what is important when it comes to possessions? Who is the one who has access to the paperwork and files? It’s obvious…right?
Yeah, well it might be obvious but I wish we had made a different decision back then, and I’d like to explain why so that you can make that decision with perhaps a broader understanding of the responsibilities and impacts on your emotional health.
Following is a brief quote about the role of the executor – it comes from an Australian law site but I’m sure it would be very similar in most parts of the world.
“ The role of the executor is not one to be taken lightly. The executor must act upon the wishes of the testator by collecting assets, paying liabilities and distributing the testator’s property according to the terms of the will. “FindLaw Australia
It’s about administering a deceased person’s estate. You knew that and I’m not trying to be patronising, but I am going to tell you that it all sounds perfectly fine and reasonable in the calm atmosphere of a lawyer’s office at a time when all is right with the world…but this is not when you have to actually do it. You’re doing this when everything is definitely NOT alright with the world!
Here’s an excerpt from a previous post about the early days/weeks which gives some context:
“There are numerous examples of my temporary insanity… My close friends and family will attest to the fact that I was ‘not quite right in the head’….I needed to be reminded to eat…and I was often wandering the house in the middle of the night. Absolutely nothing was ‘normal’ for me and I was living in a fog.”Grief can make you insane – temporarily (a previous post from this site)
In this particular post I explained that thinking you are going insane with grief, is actually very normal and temporary. It’s tough…but you get through it. Except….right at a time when you are exhausted with grief and your brain is only half operational, as an executor you are required to put on a business hat.
The list of duties is lengthy but at the very least you are responsible for the following:
You might say “My family would help with everything.” That’s great! I was lucky in that way too as my daughter took on much of the load of going through lists and searching out the forms I needed…countless hours of admin and phone calls. But because she wasn’t the actual executor she had no choice but to send everything on to me.
I had to be the one to complete and sign the form, usually attaching a Death Certificate. My daughter said that if she was the executor she would have been happy to do it all for me. Oh, how I wished that I had made the decision differently.
Others set up the executor role as a joint affair, and this is something I have done now. Probably best to make it ‘severally’ [legal jargon for either/or] because someone told me that their mother had set up her will with the four children as joint executors. This meant that all four of them had to sign documents….and they were living in three different states! A bit too complicated. 🙁
It’s just such a tough gig at a time when you are your most fragile. A dear friend explained the emotions behind the role in this way…. “This is the person you loved the most, the person you would give your life to have back again… and you are forced into the job of effectively shutting down their life forever“.
Think about that for a moment. While you are going through your loved one’s clothes to decide what they will be wearing inside the coffin (which you also have to choose), you are most likely also arguing with phone companies about ceasing phone contracts and trying to deal with unsympathetic insurance companies who say “I’m sorry, as you are not the owner of the account I am unable to speak with you about this policy“. (I burst into tears at this one).
You go to see the Funeral Directors to drop off the USB stick with music and photos you’ve had to choose for the service….and on the way back you have to call in to see the lawyer to get more notarised copies of the Death Certificate as every single company, business and government agency will do nothing unless they have this document in their hands…hard copy please….original signature…as soon as possible. 😭
Everyone has to make their own decisions, but I wish I could go back and change that particular one. It has been 20 months since my husband died but I’m still wading through paperwork as I arrange final tax returns and follow up on old share certificates. I would definitely not recommend being the executor of your partner’s estate.
At least we had a Will though, and because it was relatively new it was simple to follow and completely up to date with assets. I can only imagine the nightmare if I had to wade through the legal minefield of an out-of-date will, or worse…no will at all! I’m so glad I draaagged Norbert to the lawyers back in 2015.
Nobody talks about this stuff so I thought I’d share my experiences and opinions. What are your thoughts? Have you had a different experience? Do you disagree with me? Has this made you think? There’s a Comment box below…I’d love to hear from you. 🙂
Marlene is an Australian widow who has written about all the good, bad and ugly stuff that happened after her husband Norbert died tragically. Marlene responds to all comments.