Friday, August 17, 2018

Probate for the Rest of Us

understanding probate

Rhode Island Probate for the Rest of Us

Until 12 years ago probate was something that didn't impact my life. Then a family member died by suicide without a Will. My education in kindergarten, fifth grade, high school, college or even graduate school did not prepare me for the legalese of probate. I am not a lawyer or even a paralegal. This article has been vetted by one and draws from the Rhode Island Bar Association website content. In no way is it intended to be legal counsel. I want to demystify a corner of being a grown up that goes unexplained until you HAVE to deal with it.

Most grownups while they are alive have to deal with the stuff of life, including but not limited to insurance, rent or mortgages, credit card bills, some of us even have to deal with real estate or investments or business ownership. When we are alive and well, most of us manage passably. But what happens with all those financial and business things when a person dies? Probate is about dealing with the financial life of a person after they die which sometimes involves property and other assets (things that have value) as well as liabilities (debts).

One other word to decode before we tackle probate is the word “estate”. An estate, in this case, is the net worth of the deceased's assets. The estate is the sum of a person's assets – legal rights, interests and entitlements to property of any kind – minus all the liabilities at that time.

Probate can be tricky and lengthy or smooth and quick depending on the nature and complexity of the person's financial life. The purpose of probate is to make sure that if there is a Will, that it is legal and if it is, that the Will is followed properly. Having a Will may make the probate process quicker and easier as it is essentially a "rulebook" for the Executor or Administrator of how the assets are to be distributed. If there is no Will then the Rhode Island laws determine who inherits the assets and it may not be who the deceased wanted or intended. One other point that may confuse people is the difference between Executor and Administrator. In Rhode Island the difference is an Executor is a person appointed by the court from a Will and an Administrator is appointed by the court in a case without a Will.

Dealing with probate is like settling a tab. The court governed by the state wants to make sure the deceased person's tab gets closed out properly. The process is partly accounting and part law. Probate is needed to gather the things of value, protect those things, uncover and pay any left over balances/debts, and then figure out if there is any left over and who it goes to or if there are debts how they are resolved. May this help you be a more informed member of society.

Thank you to Cris Offenberg for her expertise in helping shape this article. Should you need her guidance you can find her at:

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

How to write a NOT BORING obituary

When was the last funeral you attended or the last obituary you read? How were they? Were you moved by either event, or did you hope for something more? What if both experiences were fulfilling or you left knowing the person better, even deeper and cherishing memories long forgotten? What if death notices made us live better lives while we are here? Does this sound like too lofty of a goal for our final rite of passage? I don’t think so.

I have long been a reader of obituaries (obits), I inherited the habit from my great Auntie Elsie. She always read the paper each section, every day delivered to her doorstep. In the town from which my family hails there is a sweet tradition, when someone in town dies the bell is tolled for each year the person lived. Elsie lived to 91, the bell ringers arms were tired by the end. The old families in the town weren’t annoyed by the sound, just curious and pensive to learn one of their peers had died. How can we bring an old time sense of community and connection to our current day experience?

As a regular reader of obits, I often find them dry and boring, just the facts or fill in the blanks with an outdated formula that doesn’t always work with today’s families. Maybe the reason is because obits have become costly? Then shouldn’t we select our words more carefully with intention? To me it is worth the time and dollars to say to the world, ”this person lived and now they have died, everybody stop for a second, remember them and how precious life truly is?”

I do NOT want an obit to be fodder for scam artists which the old formula tends to be as it lists home locations (which will likely be vacant on the date and time of the service), maiden names as well as names of family often used to try to get passwords and account access.

Would you rather read about statistics or amazing life stories that inspire? What if we take back the obituary from the tedious formula and own it like the individuals we are? What if we take back death in general and it just begins with the obituary?

I invite you to think about your own obit today whatever your health state. How do you want to be remembered? What is a lesson you hope other people learn before they are too old to use the knowledge? What is your favorite memory? Do you have any regrets? Did you have any notable turning points in your life? What was your passion? Are there any secrets pleasures you enjoyed? How different would it be if you took the time to write your obituary to tell your life story as your final word?

For assistance call 401-846-0698 and ask for Kim or write me at

Thursday, March 22, 2018

More Lessons from My Job at the Funeral Home

I have been caring for my mother for eleven years. In the beginning I did not think about how I did it. I helped her shower, made food, paid bills, brought her to the doctor, filled prescriptions and did just about anything she needed. I didn’t think or worry about the money or time I invested, I was just immersed in my role as caregiver. This is often the case for many caregivers. If this describes you or someone you know please keep reading.

Then a lawyer friend of mine asked me some probing questions about how I was administratively handling my mother’s affairs. She suggested I consult an eldercare lawyer. I already knew it was important to have a Power of Attorney in case something happened to my mother’s ability to make decisions for herself.

What I did not know until working for a funeral home was that Power of Attorney ends when someone dies and reverts to “the state order of custody”. State order of custody has nuanced meaning depending on the complexity of relationships, in general there is a hierarchy. When Power of Attorney ends (meaning time of death) and no Funeral Planning Agent has been designated, the power of the deceased’s affairs goes first to a spouse, then to adult children, followed by parents and finally siblings. If the deceased has no family in those categories there is a protocol to follow. An attorney or funeral director will be able to guide through the appropriate legal formalities. Another phrase during funeral arrangements is “next-of- kin”; it is often used interchangeably with the state order of custody. Next-of-kin is a person’s closest living blood relative. The next-of-kin relationship determines responsible parties for the deceased’s remains, especially if there is no spouse and/or no children.

Understanding how the state order of custody /next-of-kin works is especially important if your wishes include cremation. The cremation process is irreversible and final. Many funeral homes, including ours, require all parties in the same category to sign for approval of the cremation process, i.e. five adult children, all five must sign. If both parents are living, the signature of both parents is required. Rhode Island is a state where all members of the same class must sign, other states follow a simple majority rule. These requirements are to protect both the families and funeral homes from potential legal action. State and local laws may vary as well as individual funeral home policies. These are critical points of information to comprehend before embarking on this endeavor.

It is possible to pre-sign cremation authorizations for yourself or your loved one prior to death. One way to avoid confusion and delays after someone dies is to make an appointment with a funeral director today. Conversations with family are always a good start followed by a meeting with an attorney or funeral home staff who can help demystify the rules and regulations.

How to Treat a Grieving Person

I am now 2 years out from the unexpected and traumatic death of my husband which means countless people have lifted me up and cared for me when I could not do it myself. In and among those wonderful helpful friends and family there have been some responses to my grief and mourning that were not just unhelpful, they were hurtful. Given recent national conversations around grief I feel the need to say something about what words people said to me that were most supportive and highlight some responses that did not work for me.

The societally accepted, “sorry for your loss” feels empty most of the time, people say it because they do not know what to say. The word “loss” doesn’t even cover or touch upon what it means to have a death in your family or close circle.

In the United States it is common for people to be uncomfortable talking about death, as well as being around someone who is suffering because of a death. I did not really know this until I was confronted with it. The silence can feel awkward and uneasy, filling the void is what most people feel inclined to do. Thinking about our own mortality is disquieting. Most people would rather pretend life can go on the same as before, but it truly cannot. My husband will never be there to hold me when my mother dies or when our son gets married. He will not ever leave his tools all over the house or put the sifter away in the wrong place. He is not here to forget my birthday. He is not here and never will be again. Imagine that about your own people for just a moment. What would you need or want? It will be different for everyone.

I must disclose my extreme level of extroversion which impacted my needs. If the person you are comforting is not an extrovert they may need something different. I did not want to be alone like even for five minutes. I had time slots (which was organized by a friend using a helping hands website) of people visiting for at least a month after he died, 4 different visitors each day, every day. We walked a lot, often in silent tears. Those visitors had different skill sets. Some were doers who helped clean the basement or went through the files to figure out what to keep and what to shred, others helped me with the seemingly infinite technology based to do’s or still others cooked and brought meals, not that I could eat. Others held me while I cried, others slept in my bed and petted me, and some just talked about their normal lives when I needed a breather from the anguish, still others simply listened. Some people shared memories of him which were at times a comfort and sometimes painful, but necessary for me to get where I am today. Dear friends held my hope when I misplaced it and could not believe I would ever want to live again. Many supported my getting professional help when I needed it which included: doctors, therapists, massage therapists, acupuncturist, chiropractor and eventually an inpatient stay for atypical anorexia.

As far as kind and cherished words go, say something that you know to be honest and comes from a kind, loving, heart centered place. Was their laugh unforgettable? When did you meet them? What will you always remember about them? Favorite thing they used to say? Piercing dark eyes?

Please do NOT say: “Everything happens for a reason,” or “God needed another angel,” or “At least he/she is not suffering anymore.” or “When are you going to get over this?” or “Don’t cry. He wouldn’t want you to be sad.” These words sting, slash and burn those of us who are missing our deceased loved one or maybe not so loved one. We, if I may be bold and speak for all grievers for a moment, do NOT need more hurting. Please be a dear and try to minimize our hurting by taking to heart this advice. Pat phrases you got on the internet or saw on a TV show do not help our healing. Be real with us, I beg you. Please do not turn away from the pain we are brave enough to show you. Someone may thank you and say you saved them on that super hard 16 hour crying jag day. Grief is the fingerprint that loves leaves behind.

What I Learned from Working at a Funeral Home

The first thing I learned was Funeral Directors are people. I hadn’t met one before. They held the door for me or my coat, but they were not my concern when attending a funeral. My own sadness took the spotlight or my attention was on the deceased’s family. Now I know the being who ushers me to my seat isn’t a robot or servant, but a person with feelings, family and problems. These men and women are called into service much like a minister or doctor.
I know what they have seen and the stories they’ve heard. The Funeral Directors of previous generations ran themselves into the ground or marriages into divorce court or their blood streams into addiction because they always put the families they served first. Honestly, that is often the case today too. Today’s Funeral Directors are striving for a better balance.
Every family who walks through our doors needs help and has complicated feelings about death and whoever died. Each family member wants to believe they are the only family we serve. This is not possible. We aim for excellence, compassion and professionalism every time we answer the phone.
There are things every person can do to make their own death have less negative impact on those left behind. A few simple actions can relieve stress, minimize mistakes and delays in the administration that follows death. Preparation makes things easier on your loved ones, as well as the Funeral Directors who usher your friends and family through a complex process.
First and foremost, plan ahead! Every day the average person makes 3,000 to 35,000 decisions. Decision fatigue is real and happens in ordinary life. Imagine what happens when someone you love dies, making decisions becomes even harder and more of them.
If when we are healthy we write decisions down and entrust them to a person with integrity we take care of the people we leave behind. Every decision we make now takes their burden away later, when they may be headlong in shock and grief. Finding important paperwork may be challenging if someone lives in a different state or in a messy house. Put the information somewhere safe and tell people the location, i.e. PDQ Funeral Home or safe deposit box or under your mattress (less secure). If you don’t manage to do an official funeral planning meeting, at least write down:

  • your social security number
  • your parents names (including maiden name)
  • parents place of birth
  • marital status at time of death
  • name of most recent spouse alive or predeceased (including maiden name and their social security)
  • birthplace
  • date of birth
  • highest level of education
  • Legal residence address
  • occupation
  • Veterans- a copy of your DD214
Take an hour out of your life today and you could save family and friends hours and possibly days of frustration. Your friendly neighborhood funeral director will appreciate your effort and maybe raise a glass to your memory!