power lines for blog by DC widow writer Marjorie Brimley
Things That Suck

To Update the Account, Part 2

The first few months of widowhood are awful, full of deep pain, heavy anxiety and….a shit ton of paperwork.

It’s actually amazing. I mean, I knew there would be some paperwork, but I had no idea that for many weeks after Shawn’s death, I’d need to devote at least 4-5 hours a day to figuring out finances and bills and forms and everything else. Did your late husband have a car he owned, one that didn’t have you on the title? Well, you’ll have to go to court for that! Yes, even if there was a will. Welcome to probate.

I am grateful that I had resources to go to court for, grateful that I could still pay my bills and grateful that so many of my friends volunteered free evening hours to try and help me sort through it all. About six months after Shawn died, much of the paperwork was done.

But a few pieces remained. Why? Honestly, a year later, as I looked at my water and utility bills – both in Shawn’s name – I wondered, “why didn’t I change these?”

Now I know the answer: because it was too damn much.

About a month ago, as Chris and I were doing some life planning, we were rooting through paperwork and I was sorting out the bills for our house that were still paid by Shawn. “He’s very prompt with his payments!” I said, my dark widow humor coming out. Chris smiled, and then we chatted about it and decided that we should probably get some of the key bills in both of our names.

We decided to start with the utility service. I mean, how hard could it be? I’d just call customer service and tell them to take off Shawn’s name and add Chris’s.

What I didn’t realize was that there is a reason that I never tackled the utility bill – because it is an insane hellhole of bureaucracy that I am now going to try and convey. (Be forewarned: it is not interesting!)

No, it didn’t matter that my name was on the bill, because the primary account owner was Shawn. If he was dead (“you said he died three and a half years ago?”) then the account had to be cancelled and no, it didn’t matter that I lived at the same house and was also on the account. I mean, why would a widow actually stay in her house? That’s insanity!

The solution was to fax (fax!) an original death certificate to the company which would then cancel that account. Then I needed to set up a new account with the exact same information, but I needed to make sure to pay my first few bills with a check (a check!) because autopay wouldn’t work for the first few cycles even though that’s how Shawn had been paying the bill (from the exact same bank account) for the past 3 1/2 years. However, even though I then canceled the account, it would still be the primary account online, so I had to call back again and work through transferring the new account to be the main account and have you stopped reading because this sentence is the most long and boring thing that I’ve ever written?

OMG.

What’s fun is that that’s not the end! Even though I confirmed with the eighth person on the phone that everything was transferred, we still got a letter that said I needed to fax (that again) the purchase settlement papers to the utility company as “proof of occupancy.” Of the same house! So I called back the utility company who had the worst-ever automated system and just kept saying “representative” which got me transferred to a person in billing who immediately said, “I have really no clue how to help you so I definitely need to transfer you” and then I got that 2 more times until I finally reached a woman who I told the entire story to again to which she replied,

“Honey, that is crazy and we are going to fix this!”

I started laughing right there. “You’re my hero!” I said, even though she hadn’t done anything yet, but she promised me she was going to do something. And 45 minutes later, she confirmed that I still lived in the same house (yes!) and that I could disregard the letter.

“Whew!” I said that evening, as I recounted the story to Chris. “I’m glad it’s over.”

But it wasn’t! Two days later, the utility company called again. They needed a new death certificate, a different one, one that was sent in a different way (via fax, but a different fax number) even though yes, they could see the one I already sent. “But there’s only one….” I said, and then I started laughing because what in the world was going on? Luckily, I got a different kind woman who promised me that she’d just type in the right stuff in my forms and then everything would be okay.

And if it wasn’t okay, she reassured me, I could call back and talk to someone at a different number who could help me. She definitely didn’t know what to do if things still went haywire.

So maybe that’s it or maybe it isn’t, and if you drive by our house in the evening one night and see zero lights on, you’ll know how this story ends!

Haha! It’s funny now, because it’s merely annoying and all I lost were six free hours of my life during which I did a lot of cleaning of the kitchen as I waited on hold (and I even wrote most of this blog post during that final call). But damn I know why I didn’t do this years ago. Better to just let Shawn pay the electric bill from the grave than be driven to a breaking point by logistics like these.

For now, I’m just glad the fridge is still running and the coffeemaker continues to work. When I finally got off the phone with the utility company I turned to Chris and started laughing. “I think Shawn is going to continue to pay the water bill!”

If you had asked me in early widowhood what pieces of Shawn would always remain in my life, I think I would have said something like, “the funny stories I’d tell the kids and the family photos on the wall,” and that would be true. I might not have imagined he’d also stick around to keep paying for the water and the Spotify account and other charges that I can’t even remember.

But in so many ways, he’s right here with all 5 of us. Including on the water bill.

13 Comments

  • Melissa D Zars

    Oh gosh – my husband is still paying the utility bill after 2 1/2 years and after reading this he might keep doing so! Love your posts!

  • Melissa

    I can’t even imagine how you would be expected to go through all of this in the early weeks or months after your husband’s death. Talk about cruel and unusual punishment! I changed most of the bills to my name except for the electricity because I ran into a similar maze of death certificate requirements and even them wanting to see the will because we’re on a cooperative with profit sharing at some point; presumably when the account is closed. Who knows? I didn’t get that far and just gave up and left his name on the account. And yes, he is very prompt with his payments also. 🙂

  • Kate

    My husband died 2.5 years ago and he continues to pay the water bill, electricity, gas and the Amazon prime account. I do not have the energy, time or patience to get this taken care of. I figure it will resolve itself when I sell the house and move or die.

  • Kim

    My husband still owns a share of stock and has retirement money from teaching in another state, 2 years later, even though I am the beneficiary on his account and I have my own teaching retirement with the same company! I spent about 2 weeks that last two summers trying to fix it and then gave up each time. Maybe this third summer will be the winner. But, he still will order takeout online…why change that account?!

  • Jen

    This resonates so true. You try to remain on top of everything but there is that 1 account or that 1 “customer service Rep” who puts you over the edge. I remember arguing with a rep on the phone after my husband died because I too had a very similar experience but they wanted to shut me down completely. I told them I wasn’t going to send the death certificate so therefore they had no proof he was dead. I also told the rep they could take my husband to collections to try and get the bill paid. Good luck with that! Looking back, that was completely misplaced anger, but I had reached my breaking point with all of the red tape.

    • M Brimley

      Oh, yes, I have done this. There was this POOR person who called me at one point who honestly wasn’t that bad and wanted me to deal with some small bill and I freaked out on her. Oh God. I still remember that. It was not my finest moment, but it was certainly one that defined my grief at the time.

  • Rachel

    I have several utilities in his name for exactly that reason. Nearly all our accounts were in his name, as he was better at dealing with customer service calls, and I’d be unreachable for weeks at a time with business travel.

    The only one that caused a real problem was comcast. I’m still furious and sick when I see their ads. A few months after I lost my husband, the internet was flaky often enough that I called tech support. The first several calls were the usual automated torture everyone gets. But then they refused to schedule a tech because it wasn’t my name on the account and kept asking to speak to my husband. I repeated he’s dead so many times I was hysterical. Hours later when I calmed down enough to call back (and report the asshole who made me cry) I was transferred from one department to another. I finally get the DC uploaded, using my phone as a hotspot. And then they wanted 5 business days to process it before even scheduling a service call!

    Oh and our 10 year wedding anniversary was during that time of bad internet, when I really needed my distractions and support. I still don’t know how I survived. I was an absolute mess. This was during the pandemic, so my therapy was online too.

    So now my internet through another ISP is in my name. Comcast hadn’t even finished processing the name change when I called to cancel the service. And then they had the nerve to send me (well, my husband) multiple bills for the weeks my internet was out. Ripping all the coax down from outside the house was cathartic.

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