Ask Karen Gibbs

Veteran business correspondent Karen Gibbs answers your personal money questions and addresses current topics that affect YOUR finances on a daily basis. Karen is the financial expert in your corner--no question is too basic or too small. Karen boils down the issues simply: here's what you need to know, and here's what you need to do. Send your money questions to and post your comments below.



Planning for the Inevitable

Karen Gibbs

Hi Karen,
I’m the only child of retired, elderly parents and we’ve had “the conversation”:  to resuscitate or not, whether they want to be buried or have their bodies donated to science as well as any gifts or bequeaths they’d like to make.  Is there any more I can do to prepare for “the inevitable”?
Stephanie of Catonsville


Last Will

Stephanie, your question is a timely one and your parents are lucky to have someone such as you thinking ahead and considering their final wishes.  It will be an emotional and trying time no matter how “prepared” you might be and the last thing you want to worry about is paperwork.  So here’s a guide for before and after as suggested by the good people of Charlestown Retirement Center in Catonsville.

First, know where you can find a copy of the will, birth certificate, marriage license and/or divorce decree.  Ask you parents about life insurance policies, safe deposit boxes and financial accounts such as checking, savings, as well as brokerage, pension and retirement accounts.  Locate old tax returns, check books, car titles and business records.

Do they have any automatic payments withdrawn regularly from their checking accounts?  Who are their creditors and how are they paid?  Find out their favorite cleaners, repair shop and jeweler.

It may seem like a lot of unnecessary information, but when the “inevitable” strikes you’ll be thankful for the advanced preparation.  Once death has been declared, arrange for pets (if any) and assess security needs at the decedent’s residence.   Follow through on funeral and burial arrangements which may include special arrangements such as military honors. Notify the attorney or personal representative, if you don’t have power of attorney, to start the process.  Obtain copies of the death certificate; notify Social Security and any other retirement benefit system, their place of worship as well as any fraternal, trade and/or social organizations, along with distant family members and friends.

The will should be filed with the appropriate county or city office for probate.  The executor or personal representative will be named and responsible for the administration of the estate – paying taxes, outstanding debts and bequeaths via a bank account for the estate of the deceased.  Keep all receipts and statements.  
The mundane things consist of cancelling phone, gas, electricity, cable and any home delivery service and subscriptions; cancelling or forwarding mail, and inventorying household goods, personal belongings, jewelry and artwork for proper appraisal, accounting and distribution.

For the more complex issues, I strongly suggest that you work with the lawyer who prepared the will or one with whom you feel most comfortable.  While you can navigate the process on your own, there are nuances to the law, as well as tax and accounting matters, that only a professional would know.    

Let’s hope you won’t need this information any time soon, but keep it in a safe place and refer to it often.  I hope it will give you peace of mind and make a very stressful time a bit easier.



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