What I Learned From My Mom’s Death

Death and my mom are never far from my mind around this time of year. Five years ago,  we removed my mom from life support after she suffered a cerebral hemorrhage. To say that it was a hard decision and it sucked was an understatement. I sat by her side until she passed. This is also what kicked off my biggest financial lesson.

This article isn’t about how she died though, it’s about everything else that happened after. You see, after a bedside vigil for 14hrs, I was exhausted and even felt a bit of relief that it was finally over. But as it turns out, I couldn’t have been more wrong. There’s A LOT that needs to be done. And what you do now will help determine how much harder, or easier, it will be for your family.

Dealing with a paren'ts -- or anyone's -- death is hard enough. So help out those left picking up the pieces with a little bit of planning. Click To TweetWhat Can You Do To Make Things Easier After You Die?

They say parents keep teaching you after they’re gone. I can honestly say I found that to be true almost immediately. In personal finance sphere, we focus a lot on how to live your life. And rightfully so. We should be focused on how to make the most of our time here and now. There are some things that are worth spending your time getting done to make dealing with your affairs easier for family should you suddenly pass. Once you’re gone, you have no worries, so it’s a parting gift to them. What exactly is there to do that’ll make it easier? Well it’s a whole train ride with lots of stops along the way.

First stop, Funeral Town

Planning a funeral sucks no matter what. There are two things that’ll help out immensely:

  1. Talk to someone, anyone in the family about what you want for yourself
  2. Have some funds set aside for a funeral.

End of Life Plan
Most are familiar with the term DNR (do not resuscitate). These type of conversations and questions usually don’t come to mind until 80’s or 90’s. We all hope to live the expected life span. But the happy path doesn’t always happen. It’s important, at any age, to discuss what you’d want in a medical situation when decisions need to be made and you can’t speak for yourself. I get it, it’s an uncomfortable topic. No one wants to hear that conversation when you do bring it up.

As bad as it sounds though, when my mom was in a coma, I had no real idea what she wanted in a scenario like that. I really do think we did what she would have wanted. But it was a guess. The family spent many agonizing hours debating when would have been her point of no return.  Some debate would’ve been inevitable. Being clear on what she wanted wouldn’t have made it easier to let go, but it would have given me a little more reassurance in the decision.

Funeral Arrangements
As far as arrangements, I had no idea what she wanted. A casket? Cremation? Eco-burial? I was also ill prepared for the sudden unexpected cost of a funeral. There was no life insurance. She didn’t have a lot of money. In the grand scheme of things, I didn’t care about the money. But even in a situation like that, you can’t escape the reality that you need cold hard cash to say goodbye in a way your loved one likely wants. There’s no medium-ish term wait and save plan.

So life lesson, make sure at least one, if not a few people know what you’d like and, if you can, have some funds set aside for the arrangements you want.

Next Stop: Paper Scavenger Hunt

Even in death, there are finances and bureaucratic items to deal with. And it all boils down to paperwork. Now I enjoy a good scavenger hunt, but let me tell you hunting for your loved ones paper’s is overrated. The best thing you can do is have your paperwork organized and in a known location. Not just your will but:

  • Identification papers: Anything from birth certificate, drivers license, marriage certificate, divorce, etc
  • Life insurance papers
  • Financial accounts information: chequing, savings, investments, etc
  • Tax papers

It was odd how I could get a glimpse of another side of my mom’s life going through all the papers that were needed. Getting paperwork in order to close out accounts, transfer investments, life insurance, completing final taxes…. And the list goes on. There’s a ton of paperwork needed. Having everything together will make a grim, unwanted task that much easier and faster to complete. After all, the alternative is having your family spend hours tracking everything down.

Third Stop: Close Out Real Estate and Financial Accounts

Your task here is simple: have a will!

No brainer right? Sure lots do get this done. But many don’t or circumstances have changed and the will is outdated. Division of assets and finances are a staple post death activity. If you’re wondering, the last will my mom had was in the late 1980’s or early 1990’s. Since had meant to update it, but no one ever really thinks it’ll be them that doesn’t make it past 57.

We got super lucky, if you can call it that. Her assets were straightforward and there was no disagreement in how to proceed. Her divorce had invalidated the will. She had no property. Even with this simplest situation though, it complicated matters. Accounts get frozen and everything grinds to halt until lawyer and courts make rulings. If there was conflict or the situation was more complicated (properties etc), it would have been a much more complex and painful process.

Terminus Stop: Sorting Through Possessions

My mom lived with my grandmother, so it was purely her personal belonging we had to sort through. Even with that, when we started the awful task, it was staggering how much there was. It’s not like we had to go through a whole house either.

There was so much stuff around us, and barely any of it mattered or meant anything. Out of everything, the only things that were kept was jewellery, computer, letters from when my parents were dating and her favourite sweater. Her sweater was comforting because it reminded me of her.

So this may sound morbid, but as you’re living your life, curate your possessions. Take some time every once and a while to go through your material belongings and purge. Most important, it will free up some mental space and reduce your time needed to maintain all this stuff. But also, it may not seem like much, but this simple action will be helping whoever’s left behind dealing with it. It will be less gruelling for them.

So over to you. Have you any tips or experiences to share that someone else can learn from?

0 Replies to “What I Learned From My Mom’s Death”

  1. This post hits me so close to home. I’ve had the displeasure of losing my grandmother and several aunts over the last few years. Death is always unexpected and my biggest warning is to make sure people know who’s in charge. That it’s not a surprise, that it’s clearly stated, so there’s no conflict, no disagreement. I’ve seen how quickly things fall apart. Protect your executer by making your wishes known.
    I know for myself, that I’ve changed how I live to make it easier for anyone I leave behind. I say things like, “burn me on a beach” (altho pretty sure that can’t be done). The sorting through someones belonging is so daunting and I just never want someone to have to do that for me. I’m even more of a minimalist now and never want to leave all these things behind.
    So sorry for your loss, and wishing you only the best memories of your mom on Mother’s Day.

    1. Sorry to hear you’ve lost so many people you were close to in a short time. You’re right to point out that it’s unexpected at any age. It sounds like your experience with the aftermath of someone passing was even more unpleasant than mine. I’m sorry to hear that.
      I’ll have to take away the point on protecting the executer too. You’re right it’s not enough just to write down and tell one person what you want. You need to be clear with everyone closest to you.
      Though I miss her, I’ve worked hard on focusing remembering all the good things. And that’s what I’ll be celebrating this mother’s day. All the good memories and everything she taught me that still benefit me today.

  2. I’m sorry you had to learn that lesson at such a young age, but thank you for sharing it Melissa. It’s a reminder to me, as a mother myself. Duly noted.

  3. This is all such good information. I’m so thankful that our family (both sides) has been quite clear on opinions about DNR etc, and my mother in law consistently keeps me up to date with their information. I think part of that comes from the nightmare they had with their parents after they passed, and so they’ve held onto that so it isn’t so for us. It’s hard to talk about because it means thinking about when people you love very much won’t be here any more, but not talking about it doesn’t mean it won’t ever happen.

    1. I’m sorry your parents had the displeasure of going through that. I hope, as seems to be from what you say, it won’t be the case for you…. in the far, far, far future!
      Even though talking about it makes the possibility seem more real, not talking lets us live with a bit of a false illusion. Even though we obviously know the reality deep down. It’s better to talk about it sooner, so that we can go back to our false illusion. So we’re prepared if inventible reality arrives. We can still hope we all live to be 150.

  4. Wow, great read. I must admit I am holding off on these things, estranged parents does not mean estranged responsibility for these things, I suppose.

    1. Thanks for reading!
      I’m sorry to hear things are complicated with your parents. This was written from a point of view where you’re at least somewhat close to family, as that’s my experience. I haven’t experienced estrangement+death.
      I don’t know the ins and outs but if something should happen and you have to deal with it, then it is on them to get all this stuff sorted out. It might not make it easy for you but if that means doing what’s best for you now, I’d say that’s pretty darn important. Sometimes doing the ‘ideals’ and ‘should’ isn’t realistic.

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