At 5 am the day Shawn died, I called and woke up my friend Becky. I needed her to get my will and bring the advance medical directive to the hospital so I could take over the medical decision-making for Shawn. She woke up our friend Michelle and they called a lawyer, who helped look over the documents. They got everything digitized and brought hard copies to me by the time the sun came up.
I never needed them. Shawn died too quickly. I didn’t have to make any truly terrible decisions about his end-of-life care. But I’ll never forget them arriving at the crack of dawn, paperwork in hand. They were the most important pieces of paperwork I’ve ever had delivered to me, even if ultimately I didn’t need to use them.
Want to know the most important part of that paperwork for me that day? Next to the photocopy of an advance directive so old that it appeared to have been typewritten, Shawn had written in one request: that I play music as he died. And so I put on U2 for the next 12 hours.
We did the wills and the advance directives a few years ago because my work offered it as a perk, and we thought, well, why not? Thank God we did. It meant that if I had been required to make a terrible decision, I would have had the power to do it. But more important, it meant that Shawn died listening to the same band that he saw at his first concert, when his dad took him as a kid. He died hearing music that reminded him of all of the parts of his life – before me and with me. Music was so important to him, but I would never have remembered to turn on Spotify he hadn’t written it down.
So, after he died, I thought the will would solve many of the logistical problems that began popping up. I thought I knew what I was facing. Really, I had no idea.
Do you know how many things there are to deal with when someone dies? Especially if you are the surviving partner? Do you know that every single place you will ever call – including places like the cell-phone company – will require an original death certificate before you can do anything? I’m not talking about a copy. I’m talking about the original death certificate just to deal with the water bill or airline miles or anything that has anything to do with money? “To update the account,” my notes about some logistical matter read from February, “send the original death certificate along with a hand written cover letter to…”
I think this was for the electric bill.
I’ve kept all of this information in this Word document called my “Admin Record Book” which is now more than 20 single-spaced typed pages long. In it are my notes on all of the things I’ve done and need to do for my finances, paperwork, insurance and all sorts of other things that use the hashtag #adulting.
Here’s one short excerpt from the “Admin Record Book” in early February: “Bank A extremely unhelpful and all account services are silo-ed, so death certificate and account update requests will need to be sent three separate times. Waiting on probate paperwork to decide what to do with Bank A until a decision has been made about repayment in full of outstanding loans.”
This goes on for twenty pages. Single-spaced.
Dealing with it all has been basically a full-time job, which was insane even before I started back up at work. To demonstrate, here’s what much of my last free day of Spring Bread looked like (sidenote that I’ve used “Bank A/B” in place of the actual bank names because I don’t want to actually suffer repercussions from these banks that I’d then have to manage and add to my to-do list):
I went to Bank A where I have my mortgage. Shawn had opened an extra bank account there, in his name only, where he would transfer our mortgage payment each month and then the mortgage would be automatically deducted from that account. I have no idea why he did this (maybe it got us a lower rate initially?) but in any case, my name wasn’t on this account. When he died, our mortgage payment for the month of January was stuck in there as the account was frozen.
So I spent two months going through probate to get a piece of paper that says that yes, I am his wife and yes, I am the executor of the estate. Let me be clear – we had a will! But the will didn’t mean I could just take over assets like this. In any case, I finally got this letter and took it to Bank A.
The guy at Bank A, who I had been to see about a dozen times at this point, was super friendly but told me that he could only close the account and write a check to a new account with the name “estate of Shawn Brimley” rather than a bank account in my name. I would need to open a new account in order to cash the check. Yes, I could open it at Bank A! But no, I wanted all my banking stuff together at Bank B, my main bank. So then I had to go to Bank B and open a new account. But guess what I needed to do that? Shawn’s new Employer Identification Number (EIN) that I could only get from the accountant.
Somehow, my super busy accountant got the EIN number to me within the hour and so I went to Bank B and spent another hour opening a new bank account. Then, I went back to Bank A to get the check and then take it to Bank B and deposit it. After all of this, I withdrew the money from the new account and put it in my regular savings account in my own damn name at Bank B.
This was for one small account we had. It took months of going to Bank A and dealing with the lawyer and the accountant just to close it. The logistics were so obnoxious that after I wrote the previous four paragraphs I almost cut them because they were so mind-numbingly boring to read.
Did I mention that I have an almost full-time job and three kids?
Don’t even get me started on choosing a new health care plan or selling Shawn’s car (also only in his name!) or figuring out how to invest the college fund. Yes – it’s a blessing to have resources that I have to manage. I know that. But making sure that those resources last, and that things will all be okay for my family is…tricky. To say the least.
I’m not even talking about managing the emotional side. I’m not talking about fulfilling my kids’ daily needs. I’m not talking about figuring out how to keep up my energy and my brain for my teaching job. I’m just talking about the basic logistics that keep the mortgage paid and make it possible for the kids to go to the doctor. That stuff can make my life seem impossible.
But I have to do it. I mean, I realize I could just not do it, and hope things would be okay. My therapist is always telling me that these things can wait. But I feel like she doesn’t live in my reality sometimes. I am the one – the only one – who can make sure that there is stability for my three kids.
Thank goodness the school year is starting to wrap up, and I have some flexibility in my schedule this year. Thank goodness my dad can do extra childcare when I need it. Thank goodness we aren’t going to lose our house or not be able to pay our bills. But, damn, these logistics make me want to die a little each time I have to spend an entire day on them.
Still, I won’t bemoan the paperwork. The will and the advance directive let me be fully present with Shawn that last day, knowing that if I had to make decisions, I could. More important, those papers reminded me to put on music and tell him the story of that first U2 concert we went to, just after we were married, where he held me so close I could hardly breathe as we moved with the crowd all night long. In his last hours, we both got to re-live that awesome memory. For that, I’m truly grateful.
Image Credit: Becky Hale Photography.