The Terror of Inheriting a Mess Part 3: Your Scary Stories Continued

by | Nov 14, 2022

After sharing Part 1 and Part 2 of the Inheriting a Mess and scary stories series, and since I keep receiving comments, emails, and shared stories from readers and other women I have talked with recently, I thought it only fitting to finish with one more blog on the scariest day of the year (Happy Halloween!).

I hope that these stories shine a flashlight on the dark topic of “death planning” so you become more aware of the prevalence of preventable nightmares, realize the importance of the need for action, and feel inspired to avoid your own terror.

Your Scary Stories

Bonnie: “Before my brother died, he had nothing planned but luckily, I helped him get a will done two weeks before he passed away.”

Jeanine: “It was a nightmare after my last parent passed until we got the lawyers involved. It got settled two years after death.”

Beth: “My mother refused to let any of us help her with sorting through her belongings, or with her estate, or everything in between. She would get cranky and accusatory when we tried. ‘Oh, you are just waiting for me to die! You just want to steal from me!’”

Sandy: “A neighbor of forty years was a recluse, working, single woman and was dead over a month before anyone found her. Her home was stacked to the ceilings with newspapers, etc. and there were only pathways through the rooms.”

Terry: “My mother had dementia. She was telling church members that NONE of her children had ever visited her in the 33 years she had lived there. That we didn’t call or write or send her money. None of that was true. One sister called every Sunday night. One brother visited her every week. All of us called her, we threw birthday parties for her, we sent her money, and we checked in. Over 3 decades we had seven family reunions at her house and several at other kids’ homes and paid to fly her there.

Then three years ago, before my mother died at age 99, she changed her executor from the two oldest children to a private fiduciary, updated the will and trust, and didn’t tell any of us. When she died in February, her house was packed to the gills with 70 years’ worth of stuff.

We were working on emptying the house and getting it sold when we came upon her updated will and trust!!! Suddenly, none of us had any rights in the disposition of things. The guy mom had hired hadn’t kept in touch. He didn’t know she had died. And retired from his business.”

Tammy: “As a past advisor myself, I talked with families of all ages. Clients with children too often had NO idea of who would provide guardianship should they pass (they also had no will, nor had they spoken with anyone about caring for their child/ren).

Several clients had a previous spouse listed as a beneficiary (the current wife was never so happy about that). Sometimes documents were not executed properly (missing notary, missing initials, etc.) often making them null and void. And way too regularly, joint and individual assets were incorrectly titled (no re-titling to the trust or as Joint with Rights of Survivorship, or no POD or TOD (Payable on Death or Transfer on Death) added to bypass probate.”

Advice to Each Other

Too often, this is an area we ignore because it feels like a difficult discussion, and typically, no one likes to think about their impending death. So, from these terror stories of inheriting a mess, what was your advice to each other?

  • Christina: “Right now, I’m usually the driver. I need to have my husband be more active in our financial affairs.” 
  • Marilyn: “You only have yourself to count on so get organized before the choice is made for you.”
  • Beth: “Moral of the story: A lot of families have dysfunction so even in normal times it is all drama that just gets amplified after death.”
  • Terry: “No matter how much a parent or other adult resists, insist on them meeting with an estate planner and getting this figured out in writing.”

With over 20 years in the financial services industry, I still see evidence every week that this estate planning area is the most overlooked, procrastinated, and misunderstood aspect of personal finance. We all know the saying, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink!”

So, forgive me for sounding like a broken record, but I urge you to take an inventory of your personal situation (check out this tool), review the wishes you have in writing, make a Before and After plan and take action (I offer a free workshop that can help), to prevent the terror of inheriting a mess in your family.

Thanks for sharing so others may benefit!

What is your end-of-life scary story? How has it impacted your life? Will your ‘unfinished business’ create a mess for somebody else to clean up?

Marie Burns is a Certified Financial Planner, Speaker, and Author of the bestselling Financial Checklist books. Find Marie on Facebook or contact her at [email protected]

This article was first published at 60 and Me – a community that helps women over 60 live happy, healthy and financially secure lives.