In my former life I was a married-stay-at-home-mom, who rarely worried about our family’s finances. To be honest, money talk bored me silly. I was quite content to let Mike, who was a Tax CPA, manage our finances, worry about legalities, and to purchase our vehicles. Repo Man Land was not a place I ever thought I would visit.
My safe little world blew up last July when I suddenly found myself a widow. As the shock wore off, I quickly realized I alone had stewardship over four underage kids and one young adult. Tex, my oldest, had just returned from his mission and was soon to be, but not quite self-sufficient. Before the funeral week was over, I hit the ground running. With help from my brother-in-law, I managed to get into our online banking to get a clear picture of what I had to work with. Thankfully our debt load was light, but we did have two car loan payments; on a Ford SUV (mine) and an Accura (his). I also began the task of changing banking and bill accounts into my name.
True humanity manifests itself when tragedy occurs. In the weeks after Mike’s death, overwhelming grief was my constant companion. I was assisted by many earthly angels. I am thankful for my extended family for helping me thru a very tough time. I am grateful for my ward family who helped with my children, with yard work and provided our family with food. I am grateful for the generosity of the manager of a storage unit Mike had rented from, who tore up the monthly contract he had with them and refunded me the unused portion. I am grateful to the Accura dealership who so kindly bought back Mike’s new vehicle, so I could get a less expensive car for Tex. I am especially grateful to a local Heating and Air company who installed a brand new air conditioning unit during the hottest week of last July; with nothing down and waited a couple of months until I had the money to pay the unit off in full.
With goodness comes opposition, and the devil (as we all know) likes to rear his ugly head. In this case, the devil took the form of a certain loan company, Mike had used to finance my SUV. Mike’s name was the only one on both vehicles. Shortly after the funeral, I wrote the loan company who held the SUV a letter informing them of Mike’s death. I requested they change the loan balance over to me and asked them to send me a monthly bill, as I was closing out the shared bank account. I instead received a scathing letter informing me the account was now frozen and they were taking steps to repossess my vehicle. I was completely floored, we had never missed a payment on that vehicle. After repeated tries, I finally was able to speak to a representative of the company. I told them I wanted to keep paying the monthly payment and in a few months I would pay off the loan in full. The representative told me they would not accept payments from me, and I had ten days to either pay off the loan or they would repossess the car. They told me the car was not mine as my name was not on the loan. I spoke with a supervisor who told me the very same thing, pay up now or have it repossessed. The Repo Man begun to call and send letters. With no other recourse, my father bought me a used van ( I had to get a short term payday loan and I paid him off a few months later), I called the repo man who came and picked up my SUV.
Later the Devil, aka loan company, filed a suit against me. They sold the SUV for less than what was owed, so they sued me for the balance of the loan. Last week, my case finally came to court. I am happy to report, I WON. The judge ruled in my favor, because we had never missed a payment and I had tried to continue making payments with the promise to pay off the loan. The judge ruled that the loan company acted “unreasonably”. It was my supreme “stick it to the man” moment.
Now the reason I am sharing with you all is; during the last year I have gained practical information that you, dear reader, hopefully will not need in the near future. As unpleasant as the subject is, we all will pass on and it is easier for our survivors if we have taken care of them in advance. So here is my list of important things to consider in the unfortunate event of a death. If you, dear reader, have additional advice please feel free to share your wisdom with the rest of us.
Life’s lessons learned
Most importantly, fInd out about the death laws in your state. The law varies from state to state. Decide before hand, if you need a will, a trust, or both. Organize important documents such as birth, marriage, adoption, social security cards, and have them readily available. Keep a record of pin numbers, passwords etc.. in a secure spot. If you already have an attorney, accountant, or financial planner, include this information also in a secure spot.
Have a life insurance policy. Even if you get a no medical exam life insurance – peace of mind is a valuable thing. Even with insurance, you will still need several thousand on hand as insurance companies can take months to send a check. You will need readily accessible funds to live off of until the check arrives.
Open a spare checking account with both your names on it. Keep it open for a year after death to cash unexpected checks that may come your way. Other wise the checks end up in probate.
Dying is expensive. It is necessary to have several thousand dollars readily available to pay for the funeral and burial.
Have the decision already made as to where you want to be buried and where and what kind of service you want. You also might want to consider not having a funeral at the church if you have young children. They will have flashbacks to the funeral. Do you want flashbacks to happen every week at church?
If at a later date, you relocate elsewhere, your deceased loved one can be transported and re-interred at another cemetery.
Unless you know you have death benefits on loans, do not divulge your situation to creditors unless necessary. They will not take pity on you, but instead will go after you when you are most vulnerable. Trust me, you do not need the added stress.
In case of death of a working spouse, as soon as possible, make an appointment with Social Security. The Social Security representative I met with was courteous and kind. My payments began about three weeks after my appointment. You will need money to live off of until the payments begin. So far, I have only wonderful things to say about the Social Security System.
Do not make any sudden decisions for at least 6 months.
and last, but not least …
Hire a kick-butt attorney.