Death, Our Final Destination. What to do?
Thoughts about Life & Death
I remember when I was little; death was the farthest thing from my mind. I enjoyed each day, was amused by life and curious about things around me. When I got to 3rd grade, we started having bomb drills during school. During the drill, we had to get under our school desks. I remember my schoolteacher frustrated by the continued invasion into her lesson plan remarked, “I do not know why we have to get under our desks, if the bomb dropped we’d all be killed no matter where we were.” Every child in the class shuddered. Suddenly the thought of death and dying was introduced; a rude awakening that took us all by surprise. No one had talked about death before. We began to ponder, what did death mean to us?
As a whole, Humanity is confused about death. We don’t have all the answers because the Doctrines of Man are vast and Death as the "Final Frontier" is rarely discussed by most. As we gain in age, we begin to experience death personally. The more contact we have with death, presumably the easier it is to understand. People believe that eventually, when time is short and life is long, folks become content with the idea of dying, but this is not always the case. My father who died last year, fought to live up to his last breath.
What is it, this concept of Death? Religion and magic were created in part to answer this and other tough issues man was not able to understand. Perhaps these paths provide man with a slice of peace as he travels downs the path of life. but not everyone buys into the theories. What do you think?
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My daughter became very close to my grandmother. Grandma was distraught when grandpa died and we moved in with her for a time. She enjoyed interaction with the precocious child my daughter was and it cheered her up a bit. Grandma died when my daughter was in the third grade and she had to face death for the first time. Fortunately for her, I have a degree in Psychology so did not commit the error my teacher did when I was a similar age. I explained that God had taken grandma home. She had cancer and was in severe pain. God did not want her to suffer so he took away all her pain. Grandma was a very good person, helped strangers, contributed to charities and she would most certainly go to heaven and be safe.
There was a really wonderful program on the TV with Mickey Rooney that I also showed her. Mickey Rooney was an old man and wanting to take his grandson to New York for Christmas. He had a heart attack and died when he was hanging up lights for the holiday. He went to heaven and argued with Saint Peter wanting to come back to take his trip. He succeeded in a reprieve and took the trip with his grandson. In the end, he died n the carriage going around Central Park after helping bring cheer to the angel assigned that job and saving the holiday. That clenched it. She no longer worried and saw in her mind that grandma had been like Mickey’s character in a line and going to be okay.
Wish everyone could be so calm and assured. I was in the medical profession working with AIDS patients and on a visit, one man told me, "I am dying, you know." I told him, "So a, I." I further explained that "No one gets out of here alive and from the day we are born our clock is ticking. He just had a clearer picture than some of his coming event. He told me he'd never thought of it that way and it gave him some manner of peace. Hope this helps you too!
It's Up to You
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Power of Attorney and Planning
Now first, before I start this discussion, legally I have to protect myself and tell you that I am not an attorney and do not possess a legal degree. Everything that I say is the truth that I have witnessed and know personally, but you have the responsibility to check things out with an attorney. It is important to note that two important principles appear in most guardianship legislation to act as a guideline for judges in the decision-making process: "Substituted Judgment" and "Best Interest.”
As a social worker, I cannot tell out how many people I have interviewed about their medical, emotional and personal issues or how many sad stories I still have running around in my head because of the fact that I actually cared about each and everyone in my caseload.
Holding the responsibility of making decisions for another individual on a daily basis both characterizes and sets apart the role of the social worker from that of any other service provider. And at one time or another, as a social worker, I have been put in charge of another’s life and their medical care labeled as “Surrogate Guardian / Parent” [As a surrogate decision maker, the guardian must exercise the utmost care and diligence, always with the idea of protecting the autonomy, independence, and rights of the Court ward.] labeled “Power of Attorney,” or “Guardian-ad-Litem” [A guardian appointed to represent the interests of a person with respect to a single action in litigation is a guardian ad litem] of individuals in my care.
I am as honest as the day is long and never took this responsibility lightly. I learned about every person, checked out their medicine and their medical conditions and checked the medical journals for contra indicated medicine to make sure the medical professionals did not slip up. Made charts on medicine and results to verify that things were on track with each person assigned. And worried about my charges when they became sick or had emotional or medical issues. In other words, I cared for them, knew them and their history as if they were my own children, parents or myself. But I digress.
The “Power of Attorney” can be useful, but can also be very harmful. The current medical establishments have “gotten in bed” with attorneys in an effort to protect themselves. They have drawn up legally binding documents that they insist people sign when they go to the doctor, get insurance coverage, or get admitted into the hospital so they have "protection" against law suits. I have personal knowledge of individuals who signed such documents during an emergency and ended up in problems. Whether they gave that Power of Attroney to their children, or friends, during their stay in intensive care, hospital stay, or nursing home placement, that person during their emergency, the one they gave their “Power-of-Attorney” to, turned around and sold everything they had emptied their bank accounts and pocketed all their money. When those people came out of the hospital or care facility, they had no place to go, no clothing, nothing. They ended up in government run housing for the poor. They had no legal recourse because what they signed was legally binding. Of course, this is not always the case some folks have caring individuals who do nothing with their things but act as good custodians. When ever “they see you coming, you are at a disadvantage," and it could cost you BIG time!
This is why you need to plan in advance, sickness and death wait no man or woman. Preplanning on your part will protect you when that unexpected emergency occurs in the future. Whether it is today, tomorrow or years from now, we all will have to go to the hospital, will have emergency treatment, and will be told that we must give our rights to another in order to be admitted to the hospital or medical facility to get care. It is important for us in times like that that we make sure that person who holds the keys to our kingdom on earth has restrictions as to what they can do. "They" won’t be seeing you coming you will be seeing them because you have a plan when you have a Power of Attorney paperwork signed and on file. You can see an attorney and setup a Power-of-Attorney with a person you trust, a church minister, a family member, children. I always suggested that the person be multiple just in case you are in the same car or on the plane with your Power of Attorney [POA] and you both get injured. You need to plan in advance for all possibilities and someone younger is better than two older, don't want them dying before you need their help and having to do everything again. Plus, please tell someone if they are selected as your power-of-attorney! Make sure you have someone else selected as an alternative. Information is abundant about the Power-of-Attorney and forms can be found so you can "do it yourself" on-line, or in business supply stores.
Before you go out to make your own Power of Attorney paperwork, research your legal requirements. First educate yourself to see what you need to do where you live. The government and requirements are not generic and you need paperwork to cover you where you are or expect to be. The State of Arizona Attorney General’s Office has assistance with forms and information on this web site: http://powerofattorney.com/arizona/ and even if you are not in the State of Arizona it is a good resource because they are not attempting to do more than provide information. They have a Durable, General and Limited Power of Attorney Form. Every place is different and you need to do some planning!
Final Resting Place
Times are tough for most business owners but in the "death" business, "They are dying to get into the cemetery" mused my husband’s uncle who owned a funeral parlor and cemetery during his lifetime and was very rich. Since everyone has to die, they have a "never-ending source of income" minus the competition of course. Here is another opportunity for folks to be taken to the cleaners, and they are waiting for you unprepared heart sick relatives with joy in their hearts and visions of the money you will make them floating in their heads. Sure they have compassion, but this is business not a charity. My folks thought that having paid for a mausoleum in advance would make the cost minimal. Wow was mom surprised when they started chatting about $10,000.00 plus for the extra stuff.
Where I live, there is a rotation from place to place used by the Nursing homes, ambulance drivers and local hospitals. If the patient does not have a prearranged funeral place arranged, they end up where ever the next name on the list takes them in the city. Death is considered fair game and this helps make distribution orderly.
Of course, there are some regulations set by the State Funeral Board and there is over site by Funeral Director Clubs and Associated Organizations that help keep order. There are also some agencies that provide the grieving assistance to locate that resting placement by providing information; like Social Workers at Hospitals, Care Facilities and Hospice. However, once some one is so ill that they are in Hospice, they need to make haste as Hospice Care is supposed to be for those needing End of Life help and expected to live less than 5 years.
As a social worker, I held community meetings to discuss things like guardianship, Power of Attorney, and making End of Life plans. I suggested to them and to you that you get out a piece of paper or go onto the computer and locate every cemetery and/or funeral establishment in your area, or where you want to be laid to rest. Get out the door and visit, chat with the Directors and find out how much money it will cost you. They charge from the time the body comes to them. Preparation, setup, casket, flowers, opening the casket, closing the casket, digging the grave, the service, filling in the hold and patting it down, for the use of the building, for a tent over the grave at a grave site service, for pamphlets, for video, for music, etc.
I remember a lad who was in his 20’s and in good health with the exception of a disability. He was receiving disability payments and his folks were getting older concerned about his future. Also because he lived at home he had an excess of capital and needed to “spend the money down.” Told them to pay for his funeral monthly to help eliminate the excess funds. This is a legitimate cost for disability money to be spent on. The lad thought it was hysterical because he did not think anything would happen to him for a long time. They agreed and found a nice place, set up the services, he even did a video for “fun” at the time. The parents stated that they had also taken out funeral insurance just in case because they didn’t want to worry about payment in case they would not be alive when he died. About 4 years later, he fell breaking his leg and had to have it set in a hospital. He got a staff infection and died from that infection within months. Those parents were beside themselves in grief. They couldn’t thank me enough. With everything else they had to do they did not have to worry about the funeral, everything was done the way he wanted and was paid in full with the insurance policy.
Wouldn’t you want to give your family the same relief in their time of grief? And, that funeral parlor got nothing extra because everything was done, that family prepared!
By the way, there are "Discount Casket" Stores that sell the same caskets you find in the cemetery at reduced cost. Where I live, Costco sell them and my aunt saved over $10,000.00 on the casket she chose at Costco from the ones she would have purchased in the funeral establishment where she laid her spouse to rest. We just took in a listing of the Discount Houses cost for comparable and got a matching discount from the funeral home. Another idea how being prepared can save you thousands of dollars.!
Term vs. Whole Life Insurance
First off, I'd like to state that I do not sell insurance and do not have an insurance license. However, for over 20 years I advised the public on matters relating to their health which included reviewing their insurance.
Have you ever thought about getting life insurance coverage? It is a great idea if your family can get a benefit from it when you or they need the help. But what does the insurance terms mean?
The most popular insurance companies sell to individuals is TERM insurance. The word “term” says it all. My grandparents were great about purchasing term life insurance to help with the cost of their death. They had multiple policies and thought they would be covered. We did not get a dime from any of the TERM policies. Why you ask? It is simple really; their death did not meet the requirements of the terms in the agreement. Be very careful to read the terms before you buy!
Another possibility is WHOLE life insurance. This is a better deal and more costly perhaps to the individual but well worth it. A whole life policy is insurance that pays off. You can borrow against the amount in rough times and when you die, your family gets the money you hoped they would to help cover the mounting costs of burial and health care. WHOLE life insurance has no terms.
Accident insurance is another type of insurance, which is popular. This is another type of TERM insurance and if the person dies behind the wheel in an “accident” the family still may not collect any money if all the terms of the policy are not met.
In any case, it is best to talk to an expert when dealing with insurance. Pick someone you trust who does not sell insurance, like an attorney, so you can get it straight before you purchase a worthless policy.
Hospice,programs provide humane and supportive care to the terminally ill and their families; They were a great support for my parents during the last year. They get most of their funding from the Federal Government.
They provided professional care and support. They also offer dying patients who can no longer be cared for at home an alternative. There are many in every city and state and serve as a good reference to those needing resources.
Hospice has information on death and dying to assist people locate local burial sights, figure out and compare costs of casket vs urns and generally to provide calm clear assistance to individuals and families to help them in their last days.
Disability - Life & Health Coverage
What to do when a Spouse Dies
Here’s a timeline of things to do within the first year: All these documents will help you find accounts and assets, and assess outstanding debts, as well as submit claims for benefits and cash payments that may be due the deceased person's beneficiaries and heirs.
Note: *The initial paperwork to probate an estate can be filed six days after the decedent’s death. You have up to three years to initiate the Probate Process. Probate is different in each State and you will need to research your State government website to obtain the necessary forms and information if you do not hire an attorney.
Immediately After a person's death, an executor of an estate should collect or order the following documents. You'll need to gather Social Security numbers, birth and marriage certificates, military discharge papers, company benefits booklets, car titles, powers of attorney, and current statements for bank, brokerage and retirement accounts. Note: Save all receipts related to the estate, especially if the estate's value is close to or exceeds the estate-tax exemption. "The funeral is a legitimate expense and so is a post-funeral gathering," "You will need every single deduction for taxes."
Get state-certified copies of the death certificate; Get 10 to 25 copies of your spouse's death certificate. The funeral director can help with this. Many financial institutions require a death certificate to close an account or to change ownership of investments.
Among the headings: banking, bills, credit-card statements, taxes, life insurance policies and estate documents. • Work with an accountant to understand – and file- your spouse’s tax returns; and • Understand if you need to pay estate tax Work with your attorney to understand if any assets should be disclaimed.
NOTIFY Credit bureaus Credit card companies Post office Utility companies Creditors Don't forget to notify Financial Institutions, Government Agencies A key next step is to notify all the following places of the individual's death. Each is important for different reasons.
- Social Security Administration A widow or widower is entitled to a survivor benefit that is equal to 100% of the deceased spouse's benefit, as long as the survivor waits until full retirement age to collect. It's not much, but Social Security does offer survivors a $255 one-time death benefit You can collect a survivor benefit as early as 60, but your benefit will be permanently reduced a bit for each month you claim before your full retirement age. (It's reduced by 28.5% if you claim at 60.)
Gather & Pay essential bills - Assess your cash flow. While you should postpone big financial decisions, you should take stock quickly of your expenses and income. Make a list of your income sources: Social Security, pension payments, dividends, interest, job earnings and IRA distributions.
- Write down your fixed expenses, such as groceries, mortgage payments, utilities and insurance. "Look at your checkbook to see if there are recurring payments on your credit card such as your mortgage or rent and insurances, but defer any large expenses; and • Plan a six-month budget. • Identify and catalog your assets; • Check your deceased spouse's check register, too. Make a separate list for your discretionary costs, such as gift s and travel.
- Some income payments may decline. For instance, if your wife was receiving a Social Security benefit and you were getting a 50% spousal benefit, the spousal benefit will disappear. But some expenses will end as well, such as your spouse's Medicare premiums.
• If there is a trust, work with an attorney to begin administering the trust.
• Consider reducing your living expenses but, if possible, delay any move for a year;
Gather insurance policies (life, homeowners, health, disability, auto, etc.)•Inform Social Security (if relevant) and/or any organization distributing defined benefits (such as the VA or an employer offering a pension) of your spouse’s death; Apply for life insurance, VA, Social Security, pension or other relevant benefits. • Call you or your spouse’s health insurance company (or Medicare) to find out about coverage for you. • If there is a will, within ten days of the death, file (or lodge) the will within the County District Court where the deceased lived.*Within six months
- Collect life insurance benefits When you file a claim, you may have choices regarding how you will receive the money. Read the fine print carefully. In some cases, an insurance company will place your funds into its own money-market funds and send you a checkbook. Turn down this option, and then place the money in a federally insured bank account or a money-market fund. Ensure any federal and inheritance tax returns are filed; and File any disclaimers.
Gather investment accounts information(IRAs, 401(k) plans, mutual funds, pensions, etc.) You'll also need to check on pension benefits. Assuming your spouse was retired and you were both receiving monthly pension benefits in the form of a joint and survivor annuity, notify the plan administrator immediately, says Rebecca Davis, a lawyer with the Pension Rights Center, in Washington, D.C. Depending on the type of annuity you chose, you could be due 50%, 75% or 100% of what both of you were receiving before your spouse died. "If you have a 50% option and the plan keeps paying the 100% benefit, it could expect you to send back the overpayment,"
- If your spouse had a 401(k), it makes the most sense to roll the account into an IRA — assuming you get the go — ahead from your estate lawyer. If your spouse still had accounts from former employers, consolidate them into one IRA. The custodial firm that holds your IRA can help with the paperwork.
- The 401(k)-to-IRA rollover can be dicey. Ask the 401(k) administrator to make a direct transfer to the IRA. If the plan instead sends you a check, get it into the IRA within 60 days. If you miss the 60-day cutoff, the IRS will consider the money to be a withdrawal and you will pay tax on the entire amount.
Gather last checking and savings account statements (including CDs and money-market accounts)
Gather last mortgage statement - You'll need the certificate to transfer title on real estate and to claim life insurance and veterans benefits.
- Make sure to pay your bills for credit cards, utilities, car loans, property tax, insurance premiums and the mortgage. You could incur late charges if you let these tasks slide. (If you are hit with such charges, ask for a waiver due to the circumstances.) Notify Medicare and other health insurance companies that you will no longer pay your spouse's premiums.
- Also cancel club memberships and magazine subscriptions that you don't need. Explain the situation and you may get a partial refund. Folk suggests that you keep a joint checking account for at least a year. "Occasionally, odd checks to the deceased spouse come in," she says. "If you close or re-title your joint account, there won't be a place to put funds."
Gather last two years' tax returns - If you touch assets in your spouse's name, you'll lose any opportunity to "disclaim" the property — that is, allowing those assets to go directly to your children or other heirs. If you forgo these assets, they will not count against your federal or state estate-tax exemption when you die. You have nine months from the date of your spouse's death to file a federal estate-tax return. Some states have earlier deadlines for filing returns for state estate and inheritance taxes.
Gather marriage and birth certificates (of the deceased's spouse and children)an up-to-date credit report of the deceased
Financial Planning Help The group could include an accountant, a lawyer, a financial planner, and a trusted friend or family member who has good financial skills but not necessarily go through – key documents: your marriage license, birth certificates for yourself and minor children, a will bank records, insurance policies, and military records;• Notify friends and family;
- Assuming you had named your spouse to make financial and health-care decisions on your behalf in the event you became incapacitated, you will need to designate a new agent for your financial power of attorney, health-care power of attorney and health-care directive.
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