Betty Lee Robison

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Lack of planning leaves ‘nightmare’ for executrix

Guest column by Betty Lee Robison

I am writing this to keep you from going through the nightmare that I have just gone through for the last two weeks. Due to the death of a first cousin, I have had to deal with paper work, the hospital, funeral home, bills that she owes, all without knowing that I was to be the executrix of her estate.

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Only after going through stacks of papers, item by item, did I find a hand written will signed and dated by her and naming me as executrix of her estate. This was done in 2002. She had not even asked me to serve as executrix. Image my surprise! The will was not witnessed or notarized so it may not be legal.

I had no power of attorney, so I could not write checks on her bank account for the vault that the Oxford Cemetery required or to the funeral home in Oxford to open and shut the grave. This came out of my personal bank account. The Tennessee lawyer says I will get this money back but when is another question.

Also, I had to clean out her apartment, put her things into storage with me paying the storage bill and the movers.

Her bank in Memphis will not change the mailing address for her statements. The phone company will not change the mailing address for their bill and now I don’t know if Memphis Light Gas and Water will change the address either.

All of this could have been prevented if only I had been given power of attorney. I went to her bank requesting information regarding if anyone could sign checks on her account. All they would say was “Get a power of attorney.” I had a power of attorney document drawn up, but she was never in any shape while she was in the hospital to sign it. I am dealing with the situation of not knowing where her monies, life insurance policies or any other accounts containing money could be located. I know absolutely nothing.

This is really the biggest mess I have ever been involved in. It could have so easily been avoided if she had told me about naming me as executrix because then I could have asked the questions that needed to be answered.

So I am telling you to do the following if you have not done so. Have a power of attorney, a living will (for doctors’ use), and a will. Ask the person that you want to handle your affairs if they are willing. Let them know where the important papers (living will, power of attorney and will) are kept.

Also, write down where your assets are: checking accounts, savings account, life insurance policies, and any other places where your money would be found. Tell them where the information regarding all of this is stored in case of your death or illness.

Be sure that someone goes to the bank and signs a card so they can write checks on your checking account in case you are unable to sign the checks due to illness or death.

I spent a whole morning calling the different places, Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Tennessee for one, along with others, trying to get them to change the mailing address to me. All they will say is they cannot do this until they get some legal copy of my being the executrix or a death certificate. It will take between 15 to 20 days until I receive the death certificates. I try to tell the people that the mail box at her apartment is gone, and I have no idea where their letters will be sent or if they will be thrown away, but this makes no difference to them.

I cannot go to Memphis every day to see if any mail has come to her apartment. So these are my choices, just forget about the mail and let each government department and utility company try to get their bills paid or continue to worry about it.

Another thing, if you live alone have someone you can call every day to say that you are ok. My cousin did this but one morning she did not call her friend and the friend did not check on my cousin until 6 p.m. that night. The day or night before my cousin had had a heart attack and just lay there all day Wednesday not able to reach the phone to call for help.

You may think that this will never happen to you, but it could happen someday. It does not matter to the law if you are next of kin, you still have to have power of attorney. So for your own peace of mind, take care of this immediately.

I hope that this message will help to keep some of your from going through the stress that I will be going through until a judge in Memphis says, “It is over.”