The day after Thanksgiving, November 23, 2018, my life forever changed when my husband passed away suddenly and unexpectedly on our Thanksgiving vacation. Surrounded by immediate and extended family, my three teen boys and I said goodbye not only to husband and father, but to the shared life that we have always known. Fireman Dave and I had just celebrated our 19th wedding anniversary, and our 38th year as best friends.
And I could write an entire book on the sadness that the boys and I feel right now, and all the ways we notice every day that he is gone, but for the good of us all, and to help those that may one day end up in the same spot as us, I am writing, instead, some informational tips I’ve come to learn in the last 3 months. Sadly, I know that more life lessons are on the way as I travel further down this road. So I think dividing this post into two or three helpful portions is best, as my own lessons have come about with a mix of anger, frustration and at all sorts of varying speeds – usually not the one I want. So over the next couple of months, I hope to share a bit about how to prepare yourself for the unexpected, and then to help us understand how to best help those in need.
Basing my experience on our own particular situation, I understand that each one of us could have entirely different stories to tell. But for the moms, like me, who hitched our cart to our husband’s horse, the ones of us that lived an old fashioned, traditional lifestyle of stay-at-home-mom, husband being the primary wage-earner, this is for us.
- If everything is in your husband’s name, take a good look at it now. Ask questions. Find passwords. Locate Titles, Deeds, important documents and more than anything, start creating a map of your lives. In our home, Fireman Dave earned the money and he paid the big bills – the mortgage, utilities, insurance….. pretty much all the things. And I paid for kid haircuts and school things and all the things that don’t fall under Room, Board and General Upkeep. And with separate checking accounts linked by our mortgage, I didn’t even know how much anything cost, who to pay, or when. Seriously. Don’t be like me. Don’t get so caught up in your routine teamwork of his and hers jobs that you forget to find out what the other person is responsible for. Make a list of all accounts. Of all email addresses, passwords, bank accounts, utility companies with account numbers and due dates for the regular expenses. And should the worst case happen to you, too, for any surprise irregular expenses that didn’t make the list, monitor your husband’s email for notifications of due dates or automatic debits. Trust that there will be some. Think Sirius XM Radio… that one surprised me in January.
- Health insurance – if your health coverage is through your husband’s employer, as was ours, be prepared to be kicked to the curb as soon as the employer learns of the death. It happened to me and the kids 7 days after my husband died when we were removed from our employer coverage of the last 19 years, and offered us a COBRA continuation plan at almost twice the cost of what we were paying as employees. More on this subject in another post, as three months into the conversation, I am still working for a dramatic policy change to affordably insure my kids.
- Find out more about car titles, mortgages, and other things that may not be in your name or both of your names. At the time of this writing, I still cannot even update or adjust our car insurance as the cars are not technically owned by me. Community Property state be damned, it doesn’t matter unless there is a Will, and until that Will is Probated. If you’re a lawyer, maybe you can work some magic on this one…. But for us regular-type folks who can’t splurge on legal representation for the day-to-day road bumps, we just wait it out. It will be approximately 3 ½ months from the date of death to the Probate Court date for me, so I hold on to an ancient old Toyota 4Runner that no longer runs until I can transfer the Title to my name to sell it or trade it. I also had a meanie pants neighbor call and report the old thing to the City and we got a parking ticket in front of our house. When it rains, it pours, as the saying goes.(And speaking of Wills….. Your husband’s employer may or may not be as stubborn as my husband’s employer, who still, three months down the road will not pay me his final paycheck. I think they want to make sure we’re not polygamists and that I’m the only wife hanging around asking for money to feed my kids.)
- Update all your own legal papers. I am by no means an expert, but one of the first things I did was to draft an updated Will taking care of the guardianship of the kids. I was prompted to do this when my oldest, Kid 1, 18 years-old and headed off to college soon, had the fear of God put in him that if something tragic can happen to Daddy, then it just might happen to me too. So for the people you love and love you, get that Will done. And get a Durable Power of Attorney, Medical Power of Attorney, and Medical Directive done for yourself. In fact, just call a lawyer friend today and ask what all you need and say Kristi sent you. Just please don’t leave the job of heavy choices to your just barely adult kids who are really just plain kids, but with beards.
- And finally, let’s talk life insurance. Have it. Have enough. In fact, have more than you think is enough. Have more than you think you will need, because of surprise expenses like outrageous health insurance costs that totally skyrocket your regular monthly budget. And whatever you do – do not even think that life insurance comes immediately. Maybe for some people, it does. But in our case, it was over 11 weeks until I received the results of the autopsy – last week actually – and now I wait several more weeks for the State to process the official death certificate. And until that time, I cannot file for life insurance. In fact, I cannot get husband’s employer to discuss policy values with me until the official death certificate with cause of death is provided. So weird, but true.
So that has left the Walters with a three-month period of time with an uphill battle to climb. Have a back-up plan. Have an emergency savings account that will cover all necessary living expenses for several months until you can start to receive some income again. (And don’t forget that outrageous funeral expense. If you ever get in this spot and need some negotiation tactics, contact me anytime. I will be your advocate.)
It happened to me. It can happen to you. And if you are in debt and cannot cover your monthly expenses on what you make or have saved, take a hard look at that today. Kids get more expensive the older they get. Trust me on that.
And y’all, going this road alone has not been one that I would’ve ever chosen for myself. I am now a young widow with kids. But with the help of friends and family and more anonymous angels than I ever knew existed, we are here and holding on to tell about it.