What the death of Robin Williams can teach us

photo credit: nbc.com

By all accounts, Robin Williams had his estate plan zipped-up. He had a will and trust and even named professional trustees, so why is the family at odds over things after his death?

Grief impacts everyone very differently. As a suicide, it’s not just sudden but the nature of the death can complicate the grieving process. As caregivers, we know that many of these family issues surface well before a death.

From the latest reports, there is disagreement about how items are defined. A colleague of mine who is a professional appraiser has shared how contentious items with personal meaning but little value can wreak on a family. She commented that it’s interesting that so many parents who raised kids that argued over the last cookie expect their adult children to behave any better when it comes to settling their estate.

It seems Robin Williams put immense thought into his plan, but it sounds like there is some ambiguity and now both his wife and children who are still grieving are arguing over his things.

What Robin Williams Can Teach Us: It’s not enough to create the perfect estate plan. You have to tell those people who are impacted about your plan. Make it a part of normal conversations and allow your loved ones to ask questions and understand your wishes. You might not be around to appreciate it, but they will. And for those of caring for loved ones with dementia, we know that someone may have to make many decisions for us and our assets well before a death.

Robin  was known for his improvisational skills. As caregivers, we are required to improvise–and approaching each interaction with humor is a handy tool on this journey. Reminded. 

Sharing MY DPOA & Estate Plan Wishes

This past weekend, I sat down with my brother and my kids and walked them through the estate plan my husband and I recently had updated. It wasn’t doomy or gloomy since we are in good health. It just resulted in peace of mind for my kids to know our plans and we made sure that everyone knows where they can find our completed MemoryBanc Register, and the original copies of all of our important documents.

I wanted to share this as a follow-up to last weeks post discussing the importance of having a Durable Power of Attorney (DPOA).

If you don’t already know this, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that 7 out of 10 of us will need long-term care assistance for at least 3 years. The difficulty a loved one faces when you don’t have a DPOA can be expensive, undignified and lengthy.

I hope you will consider speaking with a lawyer dedicated to the practice of estate law in your area. You should be able to get one for just a few hundred dollars.

Dad wrote “No Funeral” – Why is there a Funeral?

caissonAt T minus 40 hours to my Dad’s 20-minute funeral service, my Mom’s calls regarding the service begin. Currently, my Mom has two personality modes — the Lion or the Lamb. The Lion is in an uproar.

In the last month of his life, my Dad wrote down on a scrap of paper “No Funeral”. A decade prior, he had updated his documented burial wishes, which was such a gift to us. These were the plans he wrote before he got dementia, and were consistent with what my parent’s had been telling me since my early 20s. I know it seems odd that we had that conversation, but at the time, both my parents were traveling around the globe as part of my father’s job. Before every trip they reminded me where they stored their “written wishes” if something should happen.

Back in October 2012 my Mom talked me through their written burial wishes. My Mom wondered who was going to help her when my father passed away. I asked her why she always started this discussion assuming my Dad was going first. He was sitting in the room with us and was the one to reply “The men die two to three years before the women do.”  Back then, their plans remain unchanged from our previous discussions.

After my parent’s moved into Assisted Living in February 2013, my Mom started to bring up the conversation that they were not interested in having funerals any longer. I supposed it was because they had grown so isolated, they didn’t have many friends left and maybe thought no one would attend their funeral – but that is purely my conjecture. I still try to apply logic to dementia — it is a constant battle I fight and never serves me well. It’s such an easy trap to fall into.

My Dad is being buried with full military honors tomorrow. The service has a caisson with military band and the common practice is to walk with the caisson to the grave site while the band plays. It’s January and the remnants of the polar vortex promise to make a chilly burial.

On each call, my Mom is very angry. She doesn’t understand why we aren’t just going to the “burial site.”  I explained to her that Dad wrote his wishes and that Arlington National Cemetery has them. Logically, I understand her need to manage and bury her husband based on his wishes. However, given the dementia, as their children, we had a brief conversation and decided we should follow the wishes they laid out before the dementia. The problem is, we need to navigate through this with my Mom who doesn’t recognize her dementia and can still manage to engage in a verbal disagreement (she’s a little too good at it now).

My Mom brought this up constantly right after my father’s death but it stopped. It resurfaced a few weeks ago and has now erupted. She tells me that she is getting calls and doesn’t like people telling her there is a “funeral”. I realize that the many friends and family coming to town have no idea about my Mom’s dementia or how to really engage her now. They are wonderful to call but the conversations are setting my Mom off.

My Mom doesn’t understand that the caisson needs a place to pick up the casket and traditionally, the family walks with the caisson and marching band. After going through it once, I tell my Mom that the burial service will start in the chapel and end at the burial site. Due to the cold weather, we are doing some of it indoors so we don’t have to stand in the cold during the entire burial service. She liked that answer. Finessed. 

Please know that some of this is very uncomfortable for me to share with you, however, I wanted to be as open and honest about what we are facing in hopes that it helps you deal with your situation. This is a tough road to navigate. We continue to use the moral compass our parents provided us with to make the best decisions we can while still being mindful of our parent’s wishes. 

For specific suggestions on how to manage a difficult conversation with someone who has dementia, check out Three Go-To Tactics for Dealing with Someone who has Dementia. 

Thank you for Documenting your Burial Wishes

brilliant mindThe death of my father has been easier to manage because he had done so much advance preparation.

My parents worked to update their estate and financial plans in 2002. Most of you have been reading about my journey to pull together the information I have needed to assist them which was the reason I launched MemoryBanc almost two years ago. A Durable Power of Attorney has its limits and there are several financial institutions that won’t accept it. Helping someone requires more information than traditional estate and financial planning provides.

In 2009, my Dad went the extra mile and wrote up his wishes – funeral, casket choice, songs, what we should bury him in … as well as several varieties of his obituary! He gave me a copy and it was sitting in my safe … until we needed it.

My Dad was a decorated military veteran and served for 35 years. He then left to a civilian career and consulted on environmental and engineering issues around the globe. He even served with the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) in Iraq. We still have some road to travel to finalize all the details (thanks to my brother for stepping in – they all aren’t that trivial) and thankfully, many of his colleagues are helping us manage this process who know more about his career and the military process for burial than we really do.

My Mom has been surprised by all the work my Dad did in advance. What a gift he left.

I appreciate what he did so we can do some simple task management without having to really ponder which option to choose. I continue to be impressed by the brilliant mind of my Dad the engineer. Blessed. 


Documenting all of your personal details with the MemoryBanc Register

A past colleague wrote this book which can help you through the process of planning: The Ultimate To-Do List When Your Loved One Dies