When Someone Dies

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Chapter 1: As Death Approaches
Checklist:
• Who's in charge before the death?
• Does the person have an advance medical directive, also called a durable power of attorney for health care?
• If the person prepared an advance directive/durable power of attorney for health care...
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A Helpful Guide for Executors

For specific questions about wills, probates, estate planning, and other matters including laws in specific states, we highly recommend The Executor's Guide: Settling a Loved One's Estate or Trust published by Nolo Press.

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If you’re reading this book, someone you love has just died. We feel your pain. As you’ll read, I recently lost a loved one, and I’ve endured the grief that now consumes you. My heart breaks for you.

Grieving is a uniquely individual process. Don’t let anyone tell you what’s supposedly “normal” or the “best” way to grieve. Most people find that grief is like swimming in the ocean. It comes in waves. One minute you feel fine, then the next you dissolve in tears. Ride the waves and try not to resist them. If you resist, just as if you swim against the current in the ocean, you might drown.

We urge you to explore all the emotions your grief raises — including relief, if that applies. We urge you to obtain all the emotional support you need—from friends, family, clergy, and perhaps a grief counselor and/or support group. We also urge you to read some of the many books on grieving. Our favorite is quite brief (only ninety pages) but remarkably profound — A Grief Observed by C. S. Lewis.

But this is not a book about grief or grieving. Instead, this is a succinct, step-by-step guide to all the practical things you must do after someone dies to settle the person’s affairs as quickly and cost-effectively as possible. If you follow our advice, your life will be easier, the costs associated with the death will be much lower, and you’ll find that you and other grieving family members and friends will get along much better.

Of course, no one enjoys dealing with bureaucracies — funeral homes, banks, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), Social Security, and so on. And it’s particularly alienating to have to do it at the same time you are emotionally distraught over someone’s death. But some decisions can’t wait, and if you’re the one dealing with the practicalities, this book should lighten your burden.

How long does it take to deal with the practical details of death? Expect to spend a considerable amount of time and energy during the first thirty days and to still have lots of stuff to do over the next six months to a year. The process is challenging and potentially infuriating, but it’s important — and absolutely necessary. If you’re organized, if you follow the path we provide, it shouldn’t drive you crazy. It’s also part of the grieving process, an integral part of saying goodbye, tying up loose ends, and making peace with your loss.
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