I want to share a deeply personal story.
At the time of his death my daughter’s father and I had been divorced for four years.
During our 23 year marriage, because of my career, we always had open discussions about dying and death. We were open with our daughter about death, never shielding or protecting her, but instead arming her with coping tools and information.
Those conversations included directives regarding limited aggressive treatment, as well as life ceremonies and general care wishes. We had watched people fair poorly with chemotherapy and that was specifically something he had voiced against.
I had remarried, while at the time of diagnosis Allen remained single, but dating. We remained friends and much of my belongings remained in storage at the home we had once shared, including our daughter’s childhood memorabilia.
He was an avid ‘health nut’, so when he was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer in November of 2013 we were all stunned. Almost immediately he got engaged, with a projected date a year out.
He started chemotherapy treatment and began to decline swiftly. His fiancé kept his phone and isolated him from his family as much as she could, but needed the oldest daughter’s cooperation to sign for medical procedures when he was no longer able to due to the development of a rare secondary cancer of the spinal fluid that spread to his brain causing seizures and cognitive impairment.
My daughter was called to the hospital in April, 2016, because the outlook was not good. I ended up meeting her there the next day. We stayed a few days and had some good conversations with him despite his disorientation and intermittent incoherence. It was clear he was tired; like tired with a capital T. My daughter and step-daughter (who had been estranged most of her life) discussed their wishes for their father and decided on a plan of care, because it seemed as if his fiancé was not vested in his health, but his wealth.
Two hours after we left his eldest called to state that the fiance´ presented her with a family consent to marry. She called my daughter and they decided not to give consent. If their father had intended to marry, he would have done so urgently upon receiving a likely terminal diagnosis of stage 4 lung cancer. He would not have put it off for a year.
Apparently, however the eldest daughter was persuaded to give consent after receiving ‘assurance’ that a Will was made. She did not ask to see the Will, if she had she would’ve immediately recognized her father’s signature had been forged, badly.
In addition, to forging the Will, the woman obtained Power of Attorney during the same time period. She changed the beneficiary on his retirement accounts. She got a judge to marry them with the familial signed consent form. Lastly, four days before he died, while he was in a coma, she used her POA to add her name to the deed of his residence.
The memorial service was arranged with little to no input from the daughters. It was not at all representative of the man we knew. Calls and texts to the widow went unanswered. I was never able to retrieve my belongings or that of my daughter. My daughter was not given the opportunity to receive any of her father’s belongings and despite being named in the forged Will, did not receive anything, though her sister and her cousin did.
All of his belongings were reportedly sold or given to unnamed individuals, not family, including a car that he promised to our daughter.
Turns out you can do a lot of illegal things, including forging a will, and unless someone has money to contest it, you get away with it.
This widow lived off the insurance and pension for a year and in that year married someone else.
Granted this is an extreme case, colored by the shadiness of a true gold-digger, but it could have gone so differently had he completed an end of life plan ahead of time.
These are just some of the things he had control over at one point:
- completing a Last Will And Testament when of sound mind
- establishing Health Care Directives including Medical Power of Attorney and Living Will
- creating emotional estate planning documents
- complete an end of life plan
- pre-planning Celebration of Life ceremony
- completing legacy projects
Regarding end of life planning, many people take the position, “I have time” or “I don’t care, I’ll be dead.” It is important to note how our decisions, and especially our lack of decision making, can wreak havoc on our loved ones and complicate their grief.