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Cover Story July 28, 2006


 

 

Cashing In, Checking Out


by lyle e davis

It’s not that often that one gets to plan one’s own funeral . . . nor to attend it.

In an exercise we have talked about several times but never done we finally bit the bullet, so to speak, and executed, so to speak, “the final plan.”

The ‘Final Plan’ is, essentially, a dress rehearsal of our death and what all comes after our passing.

Most of us don’t know when or how we’re going to die. Death never seems to come at a convenient time . . . so it just seemed to me that if we planned ahead it would make it easier for those we’ve charged with the reaponsibility of disposing of our remains and seeing to our final wishes.

In my case I had prepared a living trust (intervivos trust), a pour-over will, a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care, and left written instructions as to exactly what I wanted done upon my demise.

To carry out these instructions I had appointed Evelyn Madison my primary agent in seeing to it that they were carried out. Evelyn is not only associate publisher of The Paper and The Social Butterfly, but she has been my special lady for the past five plus years.

The plan was to awaken one morning and cheerily announce to Evelyn that I had passed away during the night and she was to begin “the plan.” Just like in the movies of the 1950’s and 1960’s I would accompany her along this journey, as a ghost, that only she could hear and see, observing her every move and decision and taking notes to see if she acquitted her tasks properly. If she didn’t, I threatened to come back and haunt her.

The procedure is to be as realistic as possible.

Day 1: I die.

In this scenario I had died durng the night and when Evelyn discovered me I had been dead for some time.

Who to call?

If the death was unexpected, then you call 911. If the decedent had seen a doctor within the last 20 days and/or if the decendent had been ill and the death was expected you may call the mortuary direct. If Hospice is involved, they will handle everything. Obviously, if my body had still been warm . . had there been any suggestion of life, then, of course, she would have called 911.

Gary Wells, Dispatch Supervisor, City of Escondido:

Unless there is a Registered Nurse or Doctor on scene, we recommend you call 911. It is presumed to be a Medical Examiner case, absent any medical treatment prior to the decedent’s passing. If the body is still warm, and if the person discovering the body is willing to attempt CPR, (cardio-pulmonary rescuscitation), we will give CPR instructions over the phone.

Once 911 is called the Fire Department responds.

The police will take a police report.

Sergeant Chris Wynn, Escondido Police Department and Supervisor of the Homicide Unit:

It’s always best to call 911. As a police agency we are going to want people to call us (911) . . . we are the ones who come out and investigate . . even the patrol officer in the field has more investigative knowledge than the mortuary people. Sometimes our patrol officers will arrive even before the paramedics arrive. Our officers are trained in what questions to ask, what to look for, to preserve the scene, collect any evidence available and to make a preliminary investigation. The Medical Examiner, by law, must always be involved in a death. If the officer on the scene determines that there is evidence to suggest a natural death s/he will often so advise the Medical Examiner and the ME may well waive further investigation and release the body. At this time the mortuary is free to remove the decedent from the home. If there is evidence of other than a natural death then the Homicide Division is notified and they follow up. They have a duty to determine whether there was a suicide, or death by foul play.

Typically, the dispatcher takes the initial call, and disptaches the 911 tean.

From a legal standpoint, it’s important to call 911 whenever there’s the slightest doubt because Government Code Section 27491 establishes the duty of the coroner to inquire into all deaths and determine the circumstance of violent, sudden or unusual death. That accounts for unattended death, where the decedent has not been seen by a physician in 20 days. If not undergoing any medical treatment and is an unexpected death the ME looks into that. The body cannot be moved until the ME has waived on it. We make the decisions and then advise the ME who then decides to waive or investigate. The police investigate, the fire department does the lifesaving mode, which always comes first. The police will want to talk to the people there who knew the decedent . . . medical history, recent activity, medications, they’ll ask about recent discussions of suicide . . . has this person exhibited any of these traits? Most of the time it’s natural death.

We usually impound all of the medication, photograph the family . . . shuttle the family into a comfortable area. We then contact the ME and advise. They make the determination if they are going to waive. The mortuary needs a waiver number to pick up the body. I recommend the mortuary not be called directly. Call 911, PD and FD. If body is warm,
call 911.

Joe Aubele, Paramedic-Firefighter, Escondido Fire Department - 10 years as a paramedic, three years as a firefighter:

Typically, we show up at the residence. If the call was an 1144 . . an obvious dead body, or CPR in progress, difficulty in breathing, unconscious, you never know what you’re gong to wind up with.

If the person is obviously dead, we look for a long down time. This means rigor mortis has to have set in. There is an established protocol for the county. Sometimes it’s a fairly obvious death, particularly if there is trauma, evisceration, the bloody stuff you read and hear about, and which we sometimes see. But to just find a body with eyes fixed and dilated and the body cold to the touch . . . that alone does not count as a finding of death. If rigor mortis is not apparent then we are obliged to work the patient. This would most likely be starting CPR procedures.

Sometimes with elderly patients we see . . . we contact the family member to see if there is any advance directive, a DNR (Do Not Rescuscitate) order - often they are under a doctor’s care and have made prior arrangements, but those must be in writing and signed. If they don’t, if there’s no lividity, no rigor, we start working the patient, administering basic CPR and/or other ALS (Advanced Life Support) procedures.

Once we determine it is obviously a death, we take the family member(s) aside, explain to them that their family member or loved one has been down a long time, and that we need to contact the police department so they can make a report. The PD decides if it is a coroner’s case. If the patient has been under a doctors care within the last 20 days the ME (Medical Examiner) will often assign an ME number and that clears the way for the funeral home to pick up and transport the body. The mortuary is not allowed to do that until they have an ME number.

Our job, really, is to assess the situation and provide treatment, if indicated. Once it is determined to be a death the case is then turned over to the PD.

Any physical findings we note for our own records and also alert the PD.

Though I’ve been a paramedic for over 10 years there is never really any formal training as to what to do in terms of dealing with family members. That pretty much comes from experience. Some families handle the loss calmly, some panic, some become hysterical. Every situation is different. We try to learn to be sensitive to all situations and offer as much comfort as we can and still complete our assessment and on-site treatment.

We do take a lot of continuing education classes. We are given different information on how to recognize obvious death, clues on how long the body has been down. Sometimes hospice services will come in and provide training. Of course, if death is expected and hospice is involved, there usually is no need to call 911. Typically, one would call the hospice provider and they would make the necessary phone calls.

Note: You should be aware that there may be an assessment charge for 911 services. If they perform treatment on the patient but do not transport, the fee is typically $150. If they transport with basic emergency medical services the fee is $1017, if there is advanced life support the fee is $1100. Normally, these fees are billed to the patient’s insurance company. If the patient has no insurance he is billed directly. If the paramedics simply respond and render no treatment, typically there is no fee.

Normally, Evelyn would likely call 911. But, since that is reserved for only emergencies she made a simulated 911 call to the Escondido Fire Department. They guided her through the normal procedures that would be followed were such a call real, the information from that call is the information provided here.

Upon completion of this task she calls a good friend, Linda Allen of Allen Brothers Mortuary in San Marcos. We have known Linda and her dad, Bob Allen, for years . . . both as clients who advertise regularly in The Paper but also as friends. They are a locally owned mortuary and I liked that. It’s not some big corporately owned mortuary who did not know me nor particularly care about me. With the Allens I felt that this carcass of mine would be disposed of properly.

We pretend that the hearse has come to the house to transport me to the mortuary.

Note: It is very important that if you have anyone other than your immediate family responsible for handling your affairs you must provide them with a written Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care. This gives them authority to work with the mortuary and allow the removal of your body. Normally, the protocol is the person designated on the Power of Attorney for Health Care, spouse, adult children, then parents.

Evelyn reviews the written instructions I had left behind, being the kind and considerate gent that I always was (it’s hard for me to say ‘used to be.’) As we prepared for this exercise, however, we found that we had some homework to do.

Even though I had an Intervivos Trust, a Will, and a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care, authorizing Evelyn to dispose of my remains, I found that the assets in my trust needed to be updated. One bank account had been closed, we had added several others. I had acquired a trust fund that I was administering; that had to be added to my estate. I had a note receivable and a 2nd trust deed that I owned and needed to add. We had changed stock brokers so that needed to be changed and new account numbers recorded. I had sold one business so needed to delete that, discovered an unrecorded deed of trust that I needed to include within the estate. I needed to update my Will, naming Evelyn as my executrix. I also needed to locate my discharge papers from the Army so that necessary proof could show that I am entitled to be buried in the federal cemetery in Riverside, California (Rosecrans is full, except for cremains).

We needed to consult with family members, my two sons and ex-wife (and still a friend), to make sure we were all of similar mind, that when I passed arrangements would be handled per my instructions and in an orderly manner. This was agreed to.

These all are, by themselves, relatively minor details but upon one’s death become obstacles that can delay settling of the estate.

Best to get them taken care of now.

Our next step was to visit each of the banks, stock brokerage firms, any individual or company that would be involved in the settling of my estate. They would each be introduced to my youngest son, who would be trustee of my estate upon my passing, and Evelyn, who would both be alternative trustee and executrix of my will. They would all be aware of who my trustee(s) and executrix were and that upon my passing, they had the authority to administer my estate, per my written instructions.

You cannot simply rely upon written instructions of an Inter Vivos trust. Some banks won’t immediately recognize them, some annuity firms won’t recognize them immediately . . . you might have to even get into a legal battle with them. You’ll likely win a legal challenge . . . but why incur the legal expense? Best to get this all taken care of well in advance.

At the end of this feature story we will provide suggestions as to what you need to attend to so your survivors may have an easier time of administering your estate.

My family members agreed that they would view my remains at the mortuary rather than in the home where I died.

We arranged with Linda Allen of Allen Brothers to handle my service. I ordered a simple disposition, the simpler the better. The cheaper the better. That’s just the way I want to check out. We all have different wants.

The fees:

$2525 - services, with viewing.
$ 120 - transport to Riverside
National Cemetery
$ 595 - Casket

$3240 - Total (plus permits, death certificates, etc).

These fees included removal of the body from our home, refrigeration for as long as necessary (I had ordered no embalming), transport of my body to Riverside National Cemetery, delivery to the cemetery, no graveside service, simple burial.

Okay, so we have disposed of the earthly remains of myself.

Day 2: Evelyn dies.

I awaken to find her deceased, full rigor mortis had set in. Nonetheless, I (would) call 911. Paramedics (would) respond, assess the situation, pronounce her deceased and leave, to be replaced by law enforcement personnel who ask the necessary questions, determine that it appears to be a natural death, calls the Medical Examiner and after a briefing the ME waives jurisdiction, gives a Medical Examiner Waiver Number which the mortuary will require in order to move the body. At this time we call the mortuary.

In this case we called California Funeral Alternatives, owned by Richard Jungas. Here again, we have known Richard for a long time, he’s a fellow Kiwanis member, and quite active in the community. He would dispatch a hearse to pick up Evelyn and transport her for preparation and disposition.

We had the chance to sit down with Richard and go over the type of funeral Evelyn wanted.
As you’ll recall, I wanted a very simple, very inexpensive disposition. The simpler, quicker and the cheaper, the better.

Evelyn wanted her final arrangements to be totally different. Everyone has their own views as to how they want their remains handled . . . and that is as it should be. Further, pre-planning such as this takes a tremendous load off of the family and loved ones.

Evelyn wants a more traditional treatment of her disposition. She will be buried in her Oak Hill family plot, which her family already owns, next to her late husband, Gene. She will have a beautiful casket, a hearse, a limousine, flowers, and a lovely memorial service.

Basically, her services cost will look something like this:

Initial Services
of Funeral Director 795
Embalming 350
Bathing, preparation 150
Directing funeral 325
Transport 225
Hearse 350
Limousine 400
Utility Vehicle 75
Memorial booklets 35
Service Folders 60
Subtotal: $2765

Add to this the casket and cemetery costs:

Steel Casket $1795
Opening Grave $ 460
Vault Liner $ 425
Setting Liner $ 155
Setting headstone $ 160
Burial plot $ 0
(already owned)
Subtotal: $2995

Subtotal: $2995
Plus $2765
Grand Total $5760*

*(there will also be incidental costs - death certificates, disposition permits, sales tax, etc. These, however, compared to the major costs, are negligible).

Having made the disposition arrangements we next turned our attention to those administrative details that must be attended to following death.

By way of background, you should know that Evelyn is a highly organized individual. She has years of experience as a top administrative official as well as, earlier, at the staff level. A place for everything and everything in its place, as it were.

Except for her legal papers dealing with post-death matters.

Once we began to review her papers we learned that she had followed the provisions of the Inter Vivos Trust (Living Trust) when her husband died . . . but she had not updated it. She had become a successor trustee but she had not named successor trustee(s) to administer her estate when she died. Nor had she updated her will. She had named her sons as co-executors. Plus her Living Trust made reference to Probate Court . . . one of the principal reasons for creating a Living Trust is to avoid Probate Court. The Inter Vivos Trust needed to be rewritten and updated as did her Last Will and Testament.

Nowhere had she written out detailed instructions as to what she wanted done followng her death, how she wanted her estate distributed. Nor had she given copies of these instructions to anyone, her successor trustee(s) or her executor or executrix.

While ultimately the estate may have been settled and ultimately the appropriate successor trustees would have been determined, there would be lawyers and their legal fees involved. Indeed, one proviso in her old Living Trust provided for the Probate Court to appoint a trustee! What does this mean? It means that a Probate Court Judge appoints an attorney, whom you likely don’t even know, to act as trustee of your estate. It means that anywhere between $10,000 and $25,000, or more, of your estate would be paid to someone you don’t even know . . money that would otherwise be distributed to your estate, most likely her two sons and/or grandchildren.

I don’t know about you but I’m not anxious for some Probate Court Judge to reward some attorney I don’t even know with money from my estate. Far, far better to employ an attorney on the front end to draft your Inter Vivos Trust, your Last Will and Testament, Your Living Will for Health Care (or Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care). These are costs you can control and you ensure your wishes are followed, not some Probate Court judge (indeed, you would most likely not even wind up in Probate Court . . . one of the primary reasons for having an Inter Vivos Trust.)

Now let’s examine the scenario we just described.

Both Evelyn and I are reasonably well educated and organized people with years of business experience. Yet both of us had holes in our estate planning that needed to be remedied, and quickly. To not do so would impose a great burden, both emotional and financial, on our families. If we were able to allow ourselves to get in this mess . . . don’t you think it might be a clue to you to take a good hard look at your own legal papers and estate planning to make sure you are not only up to date but you are able to ease the burden of those you love when they are asked to administer your estate?

There are a number of highly qualified attorneys available who deal in Estate Planning and, where necessary, Probate Law.

As a result of our study for this story we have contacted our attorney, John Smylie. He is not only Legal Counsel for The Paper but it happens he specializes in Estate Planning and Probate Law. John will review all estate planning documents for both Evelyn and I. We will also calendar at least an annual update to update those documents, as necessary. It’s a relatively simple task . . . and when done now, not all that costly. If you wait until you die and then the attorneys have to get involved . . . it’s Katie bar the door. Legal costs skyrocket, particularly if you have to go to Probate Court to get matters squared away.

Advance planning . . . for the dispostion of your remains, the way you want it handled, that’s important, and for disposition of your estate . . . equally important.

Finally, these matters are not only matters that need to be attended to if you are wealthy. Even families of modest means need to address this issue . . . perhaps even with greater urgency than those wealthy families. Often, families of modest means can least afford the high costs that may ensue by not planning in advance.
We hope we’ve given you some food for serious thought; we hope we’ve given you some planning ideas. Now it would be a good idea for you to think this over and then contact professionals in this field to help guide you.

Any funeral home with whom you check will have a complete checklist of what information you will need to compile both to complete funeral arrangemetns but also to help resolve estate matters. Typically, these forms not only include vital statistics, name, address, date of birth, place of birth, family members, but also military records, persons to contact, etc.

It’s an excellent exercise to visit several funeral homes, get the costs and services available, get copies of the checklist, then sit down and make an informed decision as to both who and how you want to make your final arrangements.

Remember, end-of-life issues take at least as much time as preparing for a wedding or even the birth of a child. You make these decisions in the clear light of day . . . not when you or your loved ones are grief stricken and unable to think clearly.

Making decisions at a time of grief is difficult for anyone.

The time to attend to these matters is now.

Finally, and this is one of the most important issues on this subject . . . once you’ve completed all of the above make sure that copies are given to those you wish to complete the tasks. Do not put them in a safety deposit box! Typically, these are not opened till after a funeral or memorial service.

The persons you charge with the responsibility of handling your final arrangements can only help you if they have a written set of instructions from you.

 

 

 

 

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