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The author, Laura McCamy, right, and her wife.
Courtesy Laura McCamy
My mother died in 2021, and my father passed away in 2023, both in their 90s with long lives and, thankfully, gentle passings. With the help of an elder care law practice, they had done estate planning years before.
Because of that planning, wrapping up my mother’s financial affairs after her death only took a few months. I expected the same when my father died. I was wrong.
We did everything right
Acting as their power of attorney, I managed my parents’ financial planning for several years before their deaths, including placing most of their assets into irrevocable trusts.
On the death of the first spouse, the trusts specified the person’s remaining assets were to be divided three ways: ⅓ to the surviving spouse and ⅓ to each of the two children. I was able to complete the transfer over the phone with the brokerage.
Filing my mother’s final tax returns was also relatively simple, and I took care of her outstanding bills and cleared up her affairs in a few months, so I expected the same would be true after my father died. However, settling the second spouse’s affairs was more complex, even with advance planning. Everything from wills to banking to tax returns became more complicated.
There are many loose ends
I should have anticipated the extra work, because I’ve been through this before. When my father-in-law died several years ago, my mother-in-law handled everything. Since they had a family trust, the financial transition was seamless. However, when she passed away four years later, the work fell to my wife as executor. At that point, her parents’ house had to be sold, and even with help from family members and spouses, it took months of work to complete the process.
Still, my father’s estate was much simpler. He lived in an assisted living facility and didn’t have many possessions. My sister, my wife, and I were able to clear out his room in a couple of days. Transferring his remaining trust assets to my sister and me took a single call. The outstanding medical bills were paid within a couple of months.
But that wasn’t all. My sister and I couldn’t access his bank account, which wasn’t in the trust, without a will. We discovered he had only a trust but no will, so my sister had to drive an hour to a clerk’s office and get herself declared his next of kin before she could close the account.
And filing my father’s final tax return has unexpected layers of complexity. Getting his mail has always been spotty, but I’d been able to find his income documents online in the past. Now that he’s deceased, I’m not able to log into his accounts.
My tax preparer suggested getting a transcript from the IRS, so I’ve started down a rabbit hole of IRS paperwork to get his tax information, which I hope will arrive in time to file by the tax extension deadline. And because he passed away in 2023, I’ll have to do another set of tax returns (and another round of IRS paperwork) next year.
What I’ve learned about handling a second parent’s estate
Other than hiring someone else to handle your deceased parent’s affairs, there’s no easy way to wrap up financial affairs after both your parents are gone. However, there are a few things that can make the process smoother.
Estate planning: Having a will and (if needed) trust documents prepared by a lawyer will make your life easier. Designating an executor or trustee ahead of time can also ease potential friction between siblings.
Gather paperwork: If your parent is well enough (and willing), gather their financial paperwork such as tax records, bank and credit card information, and logins to online accounts while they’re still with you. That will be much easier than tracking the information down later.
Set expectations: Don’t expect to be able to wrap things up quickly. You’ll need to wait at least a few months for final bills and possibly longer to finalize taxes, sell property, and deal with all the outstanding financial issues. Knowing what to expect can make the timeline less frustrating.
Losing a parent is hard. Getting clear about the financial aspects ahead of time can at least lighten your load.
Trust & Will can help create an estate plan for you or your loved ones. Create a customized will online for as little as $159.