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One crisis down, umpteen to go

First, the important news: Judie & Gary's houses haven't been threatened so far. The Monument fire is still about 8 miles south of them, and doesn't seem to be heading their way. They're prepared to evacuate in both of their motorhomes, though, and are staying on the alert. It must be so nerve-wracking!

I got the cremation taken care of. After agonizing yesterday over finding the lowest price, I got an email this morning from Judie saying "Why are you trying to find the cheapest place available? Won't the expense come out of the cash part of the estate?" Yes, it will, and that means it's not coming out of my pocket, since my inheritance is the house and its contents. Not that I intend to be a spendthrift at the estate's expense, of course... but there's no sense driving myself crazy trying to price-shop for bargain crematoria. ("Bernie's Discount Mortu-Rama—drop off your loved ones at our new drive-up window!") There's enough stress in my life right now.


So I did a Google search on 'cheap cremation Pittsburgh' and called the first name on the list, Perman Funeral Home & Cremation Services. They agreed to pick up and cremate the body for $850, plus $60 for ten certified copies of the death certificate. (My friends tell me I'll need them for banks, insurance companies, realtors and so on.) The owner emailed me a couple of simple forms (a vital statistics form for him and a cremation authorization for officialdom), I filled them out and emailed them back. That's one crisis down, and umpteen left to go. Still, I feel better now than in the past few days—more in control, anyway.

I talked again this afternoon with my aunt Deirdre, Donald's older sister. She said how relieved she was that I'm "so on top of things." I think perhaps she had feared this would be a big, disorganized mess, and she'd have to step in and set things in order. I reassured her that this is my job, and I'm going to do it to the best of my ability.

The fact that Donald and I did some pre-planning, and that I'll have expert help from his friends and colleagues, should make things a lot less difficult. For example, the house is full of antiques. When I told Deirdre about the six hours of video I shot a few years ago, in which Donald went from room to room, describing every item of value in the house, she was surprised and delighted. He, of course, knew the history of each piece off the top of his head. I knew that if I didn't capture that information then, I'd never be able to get it after he died. So I took the time to get it all on tape. That's going to be a big help.

I won't claim that we did everything we should, but we tried to look ahead and take sensible steps. For example, the house is in both our names—"joint tenancy with right of survivorship." That means it automatically belongs to me without going through any legal proceedings. (It also means I will have to pay taxes on it, at least until I can sell it.)

On the other hand, I'm not a co-signatory (if that's the right word) on Donald's checking account, which would have been very useful for getting access to money to pay for the things I must do right away. We just didn't think of it. I'll have to pay those expenses out of my pockets, which aren't deep, until I can be certified as the legal executor, and I don't know how long that will take.

I'll no doubt go into more detail about the legal maneuverings as I get more deeply involved, but for now I don't see any major problems looming. Just having a valid will is a big advantage—surveys show that more than half of all Americans don't.

That includes me, I'm ashamed to say. I have all the bits and pieces—a draft, a book on how to do it, and legal forms in PDF format that I can fill in and take to a lawyer—but I just haven't gotten around to it. But I can promise you that by the time I leave Pittsburgh, I will!

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