Money Is The Root Of All Funeral Evil

by admin on November 3, 2014

My maternal uncle passed away and had many years prior named me as the beneficiary of what was termed a “death policy” through his former employer. I had forgotten all about it until a distant relative mentioned that my uncle had retired from a school district and that someone should check with the School Retirement Agency to see if there would be any funds available to cover the funeral expenses. Low and behold, yes, there was a policy and I was named as the beneficiary. I think you can guess what happened next.

Unbeknownst to me, my mother went on a spending spree: arranging the funeral (planning which I was not allowed to be involved in) and ordering flowers (from “all of us”), ordering twenty (yes, 20) copies of his death certificate from the funeral home (run by a family member), and all the while telling me that I didn’t need to come to the funeral. I thought that was strange. Needless to say, I did attend the funeral because I loved him dearly – he suffered some very miserable last few years. It was all heartbreaking and I hope that in death he has achieved some level of peace that was denied him in life.

Anyway, as I said, I did attend the funeral and within a few days of the service I began to get telephone calls from my mother and her sister (my aunt) wanting to know when I was going to claim the money and telling me that I would need to get a copy of the death certificate from THEM before I could do so (in hindsight, I think they assumed this could be used as some kind of leverage). The calls came on an almost daily basis both at home and at my workplace– the two even tried to drop in on me (unannounced) at my place of work, thankfully I have a secure building with limited access. They had the security guard call me to allow them entry but I was in a meeting at the time and away from the office so I know all this only because of the voicemail message the security guard left me that day. Keep in mind that my mother and aunt both live several hours away from me, so “popping in” would have required them to make some significant coordinated effort.

That’s when things got really ugly. My aunt called me at home one evening (I could tell she had me on speaker phone but I didn’t say anything about it – just played along). She began by asking me in a sickly sweet voice: how was I doing (funny, hadn’t heard from her in YEARS before this), how was work, how was my husband/children and then…. BAM! How much is the death policy- it’s $5K, right? When are you going to collect it?

I told her it was actually $10K, however, because it was not a life insurance policy, there would be withholding taxes that would reduce the payable amount so I wasn’t sure how much it would end up being. She then proceeded to tell me that after I received the money and paid the taxes on it and paid for the funeral, I would need to give the remainder to her because she was “legally entitled” to it and that I “didn’t deserve it”. I was stunned silent and she continued on, “The only reason he named you as beneficiary is because he thought he would outlive us” (meaning she and my mother), and, “Your mother and I are struggling to survive on just our retirement and social security.” (mind you, my aunt lives in a very large custom built home in an affluent retirement community along with a pool/pool-house and a Lexus SUV). Wow – just wow.

I didn’t really know what to say but managed to respond in what I have to admit was an uncharacteristically calm manner. I told her simply that I would pay for the funeral expenses because that was the right thing to do for my uncle but that I would not be handing over the rest of the money to her or anyone else that may be listening in on the conversation. I further told her that if she and her brother had some arrangement in which he desired that I pass along the proceeds of the policy to her and my mother, I would be happy to do so but would need to see some proof of that in writing. I also reminded her that the term “legally entitled” in this situation would actually be applicable to me as the beneficiary. Suddenly she had no further interest in speaking with me or in knowing how me/anyone else in my household was doing. She said very curtly: “Well, have a nice day” and hung up. Within seconds, the phone rang. It was my mother. She wanted to know if I was “alright”. I told her yes but was tired of talking on the phone. She said, “Ok- love you”. End of call.

Several more calls came over the coming weeks (all from my mother) both at home and at work – all wanting to know the same thing: when was I going to claim the money because she had a copy of the death certificate and would be able to bring it to me so I could take care of it.

Neither one of them had any idea that sometime before the School Retirement Agency had mailed me a letter advising me that I was named as a beneficiary on a death policy and that I could use that notice as documentation in requesting a copy of the death certificate which would be needed in submitting my claim. I did so and shortly thereafter, I received the check. I then contacted my mother and told her to let me know how much the funeral expenses had been so I could reimburse her. She came to my house the following day and brought with her a large manila envelope. It contained a copy of the death certificate (which I didn’t need because I had already received the money – they just didn’t know about it) and a crudely hand written “bill” for the funeral. The bill consisted of a piece of notebook paper (college ruled). It noted the cost of the funeral, flowers and copies of the death certificates came to a grand total of $ 3,548.01 (don’t you love it? – down to the penny).

Did I mention my uncle was cremated?

I wrote her a check then and there for the full amount. Happy with her little payout, she left but not before asking me what I planned to do with the rest? Unbelievable. I told her I hadn’t decided yet.

I haven’t heard from my aunt since that ghastly phone call and contact with my mother has been spotty. My sister stopped speaking to me once she found out that our uncle left me money (not a big loss – this is the person that once called my home when I was away at work in order to make a very creepy pass at my husband- of course he was appalled… let me just say this about my sister: her two biggest achievements in life were surgically implanted into her chest). Considering that I have always been generous with my family over the years, including sending money when needed with no questions asked or expectations of being paid back (and finding out the money had been safely received only because I could tell by my bank statements the checks had been cashed), it was really shocking to see how they treated me.

All in all, it was a terrible ordeal. I have never been so hurt but at the same time, I’m reluctantly grateful that these people have little involvement in our lives. Having wished and hoped all my life for a loving relationship with my mother and being hurt and disappointed time and time again is a little like being let down that a blind person can’t see color: It just isn’t possible.

Thanks for listening. It feels good to write this down and let it go.   1029-14

First, my condolences on the death of your uncle.

I do think you are being a little harsh in how you view some of your Mom’s actions.   Ordering 20 copies of the death certificate is recommended by numerous funeral arrangement sites and organizations.  I can speak from experience that those 20 copies were likely needed by the executor of the estate to close many accounts. In the case of my father-in-love’s estate, more than 20 copies were needed.

Rather than finding your mother’s exact summation of the funeral costs to be worthy of suspicion and disdain, I offer a different view.   It appears she was the executor of the estate and by law she has a serious fiduciary obligation to perform the probate of the estate with clarity and accuracy.   I would have given you a “bill” that was exactly to the penny, if I were the executor, because ethics and the law demands that level of precision in the estate accounting.   I have a relative, executor to a deceased family member’s estate,  who embezzled thousands of dollars from the estate by first starting to fudge those few dollars and eventually fudged so much that the delta between the actual costs and what he billed to the estate totaled over $5,000.00.   So, you want an executor who will be excruciatingly precise in the amounts of money taken into and out of the estate account.

As for your mother not allowing you into the planning of the funeral, I further suggest that while you were given the legal opportunity to pay for it, you were not given the legal right to plan it.   To be honest, I think you created the opportunity for drama by how you handled this situation.   If your uncle’s death policy was meant to cover his funeral expenses, I believe you had a duty to take the initiative to inform the executor of the estate in a timely manner what the funeral budget limit was based on the net proceeds of the death policy.   Instead you presented the opportunity for your mother to hound you to get answers she needed as the executor to close the estate accounts.  And I further think your representation of your mom as greedy is unfair.   She merely wanted the funeral expenses reimbursed and she did not ask, like her sister did, for any part of the remaining funds. Her asking you what you were going to do with the remaining money is just “mom talk”.  If one of my kids had received a financial windfall, I’d be curious to know what they were going to do with it, too. New car?  Add a nursery?    To me it’s about rejoicing with them and seeing them enjoy the prospects of blessings  brought by unexpected money.

As to cost of the funeral,  I don’t consider $3500.00 for cremation, flowers, and other funeral service arrangements to be that unusual or extravagant.  The average cost of an embalming and burial in the US is between $7,000.00 and 10,000.00 so $3500.00 for cremation funeral service was a thrifty choice. Did you expect your mother to simply have her brother cremated (about $500-1000, depending on the locale) and his ashes spread in the back woods somewhere or did you think that flowers, the rental of the chapel, programs, the services of the funeral directors were all free?  I suspect if your mother had not organized a tasteful funeral service for your uncle, you would have found fault with her as well.

Regarding the remaining money left after all funeral expenses had been paid, I personally would have donated it to a charity I thought uncle would have appreciated, like a teachers’ retirement fund.   You were not expecting that money, you noted that it was designated for funeral expenses and by not taking a pro-active position to donate the remaining money (a few thousand?), the temptation to be greedy came to the surface in everyone.   While you had a legal right to retain the remaining funds for yourself, and you had no obligation to share it with others,  and to certainly ignore whining that others are more “entitled” to it than you, I think you allowed money to create further barriers to relationship health.  It became a family squabble over the last “bone” of the estate and to my thinking, if the dogs are fighting, it’s time to get rid of the bone but this assumes one values relationships over money.   After my father died,  I discovered that he had a huge amount of frequent flyer miles accumulated which would have covered the cost of at least 4 round trip plane tickets to anywhere in the US and I further discovered that one particular family member was exploiting this asset by redeeming those points for his own ticket while other family members were left to pay for theirs. I ended the family drama by calling the airlines and having the remaining frequent flyer points donated to the Fisher House for wounded vets, an appropriate donation considering my dad was a retired veteran.   Was the greedy bastard who exploited this asset happy that his access had been cut off?  No, he was one angry guy but the rest of the family was relieved and supportive of the decision and it’s by these choices that one really discovers where family priorities lie.

{ 122 comments… read them below or add one }

inNM November 3, 2014 at 8:21 am

First off, my condolences.
Grief aside, the mother’s presentation of the “bill” was a little off to me, and I speak as a person who observed my mother gather together funeral costs and 3 years of expenses related to the settlement of my father’s estate. I do believe that if the mother wished to be accurately reimbursed then she would have brought the original receipts as well as a cover page showing the summary and total of all expenses. Each of the vendors would have given her one. Granted the addition of the cents added some credibility to the mother’s request, if she was that concerned with making sure she was fully compensated I would see her bringing the “evidence” that she spent the quoted amount, just in case someone asked.

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Cat November 3, 2014 at 8:30 am

I have to agree with the administrator that you should have planned the funeral and paid the costs directly to those who provided the services. The fact that you were told that you “didn’t need to come” sounds like they did not want you in the picture at all.
Money, especially inherited or “won” money, does odd things to people. (Lottery winners suddenly find that their family has increased by leaps and bounds.) Family members feel they have a right to whatever you have received; and my guess is that uncle felt that his policy would be better off in your hands than with anyone else.
No, you do not have to donate anything to any organization or to anyone. If uncle wanted that, he would have told you when he told you your name was on the policy. Let it sit in the bank for awhile. Other people love to tell you what you “should” do with your money. Tell them it is your money and you will do with it as you see fit. They may spend their money in any way they wish.

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UKHelen November 4, 2014 at 6:24 am

You are so right about sudden money doing odd things to people. When my DH was growing up, he didn’t see any relations from either side of the family. Then, when his parents retired, sold their house and moved into rented sheltered accommodation (leaving them with a nice pot of money to fund their retirement), I was astonished to visit them one day and find a young man who turned out to be a relation, sitting there listing the things his children would really, really like, such as new bikes. I’d never seen him before – and never saw him again!

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Cat November 4, 2014 at 8:17 pm

I know. When my father died, my older brother demanded that he receive 100% of everything Dad had as he was the “son” and I was only a girl who didn’t deserve any of it since I’d just get married and my husband would support me.
He did steal all of Dad’s savings since his name was on both the checking and the savings accounts. He was supposed to pay for the funeral out of that money. He refused to even come to the funeral so I had to pay for it and he kept all the money. Now he claims I would not “allow” him to come to Dad’s funeral. Refusing to attend a funeral is not the same as not being “allowed” to attend.

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UKHelen November 5, 2014 at 3:24 am

He sounds a real charmer!

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PM November 3, 2014 at 8:42 am

It just seems so strange to me that people would scheme and commit this much effort to get a hold of a couple of thousand dollars. It’s not like this is life-altering, set-you-up-for-life money. Was their dignity really worth it?

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Yasuragi November 3, 2014 at 7:03 pm

People will sell their dignity for a Klondike bar. It’s one of those things that manages to be both priceless and worthless.

I’ve seen relationships torn asunder over as little as twenty bucks. It’s not always the money itself but rather the personalities and bad blood between the people involved.

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theycallmepat November 5, 2014 at 3:58 am

A couple of thousand dollars may seem trivial to you, but I can assure you that it is the kind of amount that can be life-changing for many who are not as privileged.

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rachel November 7, 2014 at 5:54 pm

OP already said the aunt was affluent. So these people were not hurting for money.

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Callalilly November 3, 2014 at 8:52 am

If mom was in fact the executrix, then she would be legally entitled to a portion of the estate (something around 5%-10%), at least in the state I live in. Depending on the size and complexity of the estate, being the executor/executrix can be quite a time-consuming job.

Presumably, if the uncle had enough means to give a niece $10,000, then there should have been enough for his own funeral. And it should have been well-understood that the OP’s inheritance was not intended as a means of paying for the funeral.

Sadly, these stories, where even the most undeserving family member is determined to get his/her share of the pie, are all too common.

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Elynn November 3, 2014 at 6:28 pm

I think that it was understood that the money the niece recieved was in fact for the funeral expenses.

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Schnickelfritz November 4, 2014 at 7:24 pm

Why? If that was the case, his beneficiary would have read “my estate” – that is how it is done. His home, car, cash, etc., is his estate. His will would specify how to distribute everything, after the funeral and his medical bills, credit cards, etc. are paid. I get the feeling, many posters here, have never been involved in dissolving estates. Niece was under no obligation, whatsoever, to pay anything.

It is the law. Look it up. And, all of you that have not already, get your estate in order. If you have a named beneficiary, other than your spouse, they are under no obligation (even children) to pay your funeral from a life insurance policy. This misunderstanding happens every day. The funeral director will file the policy, named to a spouse, before he proceeds with your service. A beneficiary can get the death certificate, from the coroner, if he shows a life policy.

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hakayama November 3, 2014 at 9:54 pm

It was not the uncle’s PERSONAL funds, but something more along the lines of a standard “insurance type” sum possibly connected to the uncle’s retirement funds. Social Security has a modest payout to workers’ widowed spouses. No strings nor stipulations attached.

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Taragail November 3, 2014 at 8:57 am

Might I add, that wholly unnecessary parting shot at your sister is really telling.

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remi November 3, 2014 at 8:21 pm

Yeah, really.

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hakayama November 4, 2014 at 9:08 am

Considering the “beef” that OP might have against sis from Hades, the “parting shot” was quite mild. More like a soft snowball… 😉 Siblings have been known to part forever for much less than what sis had pulled. It’s OK to re-read the posting.

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Meegs November 4, 2014 at 9:06 am

How so? I’m really curious.

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twoferrets November 4, 2014 at 9:40 am

I don’t know… yes, it was catty, but frankly if my sibling made a pass at my spouse I would have a hard time not being catty myself!

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Ladyofsighs November 8, 2014 at 3:12 pm

I am very sorry, but telling what?

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Susan November 3, 2014 at 9:15 am

Admin,

I was mostly with you until the last paragraph. I would assume that the uncle named her as beneficiary because he wanted her to have the money.

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Otterpop November 3, 2014 at 8:26 pm

Absolutely. If my beneficiary gave away money I meant to bless her with, I’d not rest so easy.

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admin November 4, 2014 at 6:33 am

Why? Like any gift, monetary or not, once given the giver has no claims on the gift and the recipient can do with it as he/she pleases which includes the option to give it away.

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B November 4, 2014 at 7:22 am

Yes, but that doesn’t mean she *should* give it away if she doesn’t want to.

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Meegs November 4, 2014 at 9:07 am

Yeah, really. What if the OP’s family could really benefit from that money? Why on earth should there be any expectation that they should just give it away?

Schnickelfritz November 4, 2014 at 7:32 pm

Why? Because some people would rather it went to another loved one, that needed it. I would not have such a thoughtless beneficiary – I have a lot of loved ones, and they know how I think. “Do with as he/she pleases” sounds irresponsible and ungrateful. My beneficiary knows exactly what I would want them to do, if they had no need at that time. And it would not be some big box charity. They would pay off the kids’ student loans, or buy auntie a car, apply it directly to a loved one in our circle. If I wanted it to go to a charity – that would be in my will. We are respectful of each other’s wishes and line of thinking that way, and there are enough of us, someone I love dearly could use it instead.

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admin November 5, 2014 at 3:59 pm

If you want money intended for specific beneficiaries to be spent in a particular manner, you write a will that specifies that in writing. Otherwise, your beneficiaries are free to do with the inherited money in any way they deem appropriate.

B November 3, 2014 at 9:25 am

I think it’s harsh to call the OP greedy for not keeping the money. It was her uncle’s wish that she have it. Not anyone else in the family, her.

When I made my will, I did so choosing people who I wanted to get my money, and I don’t want them to give it away. It is a gift from me. Why should they give it up just because they didn’t expect it? It was a gift.

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Snarkastic November 6, 2014 at 4:56 pm

I agree. I don’t understand why keeping money bequeathed to you suddenly makes you like Golum clutching his precious. She paid his funeral expenses and hopefully put the rest to good use for her family, as his presumably intended. Or not. Who knows. It sounds like he trusted his niece to use the money well.

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Michelle November 3, 2014 at 9:27 am

OP, so sorry for the loss of your uncle. All the other things your family put you through were unfortunately, usual family drama for *some* families. I understand where you are coming from because we went through something very similar when the man I refer to as my stepdad died. He & mom were never married, but they had been together for over 25 years when he passed. He was a good man, a great father-figure and the best grandpa any kids could ask for.

When he passed, his “family”- brothers, couple of nieces and nephews that my mother had never met- suddenly descended , wanting to know where this thing was, how much money did he have in the bank, did he have life insurance? These “family” members rarely visited. As in, I have never met all of his brothers and as previously mentioned, Mom did not even know some of the nieces and nephews. These people had not even seen Don in years- and that’s not an exaggeration- but suddenly they felt entitled to anything he might have had.

Things boiled over at the funeral home when his family wanted to write his obituary, excluding any mention of the grandkids and listing my mother as his “fiance”, even though she was paying for everything. Yep, mom paid for everything, yet they wanted to have control over everything. She wasn’t his fiance, they were life partners. I don’t know how that should be listed, but “fiance” just seemed…wrong. They were adults who had chosen to spend their live together. Anyway, mom and I both got upset at the funeral home, because brother #1, who had elected himself spokesperson for the “family”, kept saying that only family should be in the obituary. I just stood up in the little room that we were in, leaned over the table and looked brother #1 in the eye and in an eerily calm voice, told him could write that obituary anyway he wanted and list anyone that he wanted, but people that knew Don, knew who his “real” family was, and neither my mother nor the grandkids needed a couple of lines in a newspaper to know who Don was to them.

Lot of other things happened in the weeks to follow, but I think you get the gist of it. Death does very strange things to people and makes some people very greedy. I think Admin was bit harsh on OP; all the calls and surprise visits seem to reek of greed, but I do think she made some very good points as well.

P.S. I learned something very important from Don’s death- if you do not marry your chosen partner, and your family accepts them as family (Don’s seemed to accept Mom), and even though you think they would never try to step in and take over when you die, it would still be a good idea to get legal documents, maybe power of attorney or executor of the estate or something to signify that your partner is to make decisions regarding your funeral and any material possession you may leave behind. It sure would have helped when Don passed away.

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Mojo November 5, 2014 at 11:09 am

You are so right. I thought of my father’s partner as my stepmother for around 25 years. When she passed away, I started to deal with her estate, but was pushed out by her niece. Legally this niece was her only blood relative, but she’d met my stepmother exactly twice in her whole life, once as a child and again two years before she died.

I’d cared for my stepmother for five years after my father died, but didn’t even get to go to her funeral. My consolation is I knew my stepmother while she was still alive, they only knew her after she was gone. They got money but I got love, and that’s their loss.

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cincharge November 3, 2014 at 9:50 am

I agree with a great deal of what the Admin said, however, it does bug me that the OP was excluded from planning the funeral and even encouraged to not attend, but was automatically expected to pay for it out of his/her inheritance. I understand that this is perhaps primarily what the funds were for (though…WAS there life insurance?), but for it to be suggested that you not attend? That’s strange.

IMO, the aunt is the real stinker in this situation. What a terrible conversation to have. I can’t even believe she felt any of those things. Death is weird.

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A different Tracy November 3, 2014 at 10:12 am

I agree that the funeral costs were actually very reasonable – given your description, I thought they’d end up being more than the amount you received. I don’t agree with the Admin’s suggestion that you donate the money, unless that’s where your heart leads you – if your uncle wanted the remainder to go to a charity, it seems he would have made that clear. And if distributing money is the way to hold onto those relationships, why would you even want them in the first place?

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Tracy P November 3, 2014 at 10:32 am

I think it sounds more like the OP had had enough of their extended family and decided to do everything they could to make this the straw that broke the camels back. I’m betting that there is a lot more back story (the OP hints at past trouble with the sister) and this was probably a toxic relationship.

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Carol57 November 3, 2014 at 10:50 am

While I may agree with the admin on the overall tone of the original post, there are a number of interesting assumptions in the response that have given me pause. Nowhere does the OP state that the purpose of the death policy was that it be used to pay for funeral expenses.

It’s not even clearly defined as to what the death policy is. Nowhere does it state that the mother is the executor of the deceased’s will (one is the executor of a will, not of an estate) or even that a will existed. Even if there had been a will, it’s unlikely that it could have been filed for probate, accepted by the court, and letters of administration issued to allow the executor to transact business of behalf of the estate. If the mother was doing anything at the time of the funeral, she was acting as next of kin, not as an executor.

Even if the mother was the executor, in most states assets that have a named beneficiary pass outside of the probate process. The total of these assets may be needed to file an estate inventory, but they are not part of the estate. The law is also pretty clear that assets that pass outside of the estate do not need to be used to pay estate expenses, so the OP is well within her rights to do as she pleases with them.

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Vermin8 November 3, 2014 at 10:56 am

It was pretty clear from the beginning why the uncle made OP the beneficiary and not other family members (eg one of his sisters).
If Mom was the executor, that is a very key piece of info left out and explains her actions (the “spending spree” to arrange the funeral).

I do think Mom was out of line is asking OP about the disposition of the remainder of the policy – my family would never ask about that – it’s understood you live within your means and handle your issues. We truly do have “don’t ask, don’t tell” and it works well for us.

I’m sure there is a lot of history and perhaps OP wasn’t perfect (no one is) but since her uncle left her the money I don’t think it’s improper that she kept it – perhaps Mom wasn’t trying to be nosy but since it had become a sensitive issue, then Mom should have steered clear of it.

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Jenny R November 3, 2014 at 11:52 am

If you’re going to show someone a bill it need the be the real thing, not just figures written on a piece of paper. The person who made the arrangements would have this information. Personally I would have called the funeral home to find out the cost and paid them directly.

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Lisa November 4, 2014 at 9:21 am

Exactly. This was the main thing that bothered me about the story. A bunch of figures written on a sheet of notepaper is not a bill.

Not to put words in OP’s mouth, but I think that since the mom & aunt had previously displayed greedy behavior, OP may have seen this as suspicious and an attempt to be reimbursed for more than that actual cost of the funeral.

It’s not an unreasonable amount, though, so it may in fact have been an accurate amount.

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delislice November 4, 2014 at 5:40 pm

Yes, exactly. I’ll happily pay the bills based on copies of receipts — not something scribbled on notebook paper.

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Jen November 8, 2014 at 11:10 am

BINGO!

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Harley Granny November 3, 2014 at 12:25 pm

I have to disagree with Admin on a number of points. She was named the beneficiary of this policy…it was never mentioned that these monies were to be used to pay the funeral expenses. The OP said she would do so because it was the right thing to do.

It looked to me that the mother assumed that the OP was going to pay for the funeral.

Not until the Aunt asked how much the policy was did the OP even mention that she would pay the funeral expenses so she was NOT holding up the settlement of the estate. She was under no legal obligation to pay anything at all. If the mother was going to claim the funeral expenses from the estate (which I bet she still did) she would need more than a handwritten “bill”.
And on a side note the amount of the expenses doesn’t really matter. What matters is how the OP was treated.

The balance of the $$ is to do with what you wish….they no longer deserve to know what you do with it.

And on that note, the constant barage of messages and phone calls would have caused me to respond with….”I have said I would pay for the funeral, but every time from now on that you call and harass me about this policy I will be knocking $100.00 from what you will receive.”

I’m sorry OP that your family got the case of the greedies….and I’m sorry for the loss of your uncle.

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Kay L November 3, 2014 at 8:15 pm

It was a “Death benefit.” Employers get those policies as a benefit for their employees to cover expenses when they die.

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Otterpop November 4, 2014 at 1:49 am

It is not greedy to keep money bequeathed to you. It is what the deceased wanted and is meant as a gift. Why should the OP feel pressured to give the remainder away? Isn’t that the same guilt the mom and aunt are placing on her for money she didn’t expect? So what? The best gifts come by way of surprise.

OP did a very generous thing in paying for the funeral. She should enjoy the rest of the money as her uncle intended.

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NostalgicGal November 3, 2014 at 12:44 pm

I won’t even start on what I had to go through with my father’s passing; and my mother’s I made further plans for on what colors already got run up the flagpole.

My condolences about everyone that came out of the woodwork, OP. I have similar, I made my parents take out two small policies to cover stuff and settle estates. One has paid out and things were handled; and after the shenanigans (two aunts-one father’s sister, the other sis in law, that are good at spending other people’s money, and the sis in law that I’ve called ‘Tada’ because everything has to be about her and spotlight firmly on her–that tried to impersonate my mother and myself and order up a huge funeral twice (last wishes were no funeral and cremation) and it took me going up there in person to shut all that down…) I took many precautions and put stuff in place in writing on when mom passes as I know that will be massively bad and I will be in court to defend the mythical settlement that both those two women thinks exists… and one other issue.

I found father left a sealed packet for after they both left if those two decide to go to court over the parental money (that sis sucked up) and the settlement my father did receive (he received about half a percent of what they think he got… honestly, if he had that much would he have been living in low income housing for thirty some years? What he did get was long long gone) and the attorney firm is hanging onto it for that eventuality.

I agree with Admin here, on pay off the funeral; and donate the rest to something in Uncle’s honor, so that nobody else can come screaming about entitlement. When my parents were in the middle of the accident lawsuit, I told them they could give it all to the Hare Krishnas if they wanted; burn it; wallpaper their house with it, whatever. I wanted a few small family heirlooms, which they gave me years ago. Hang in there OP, if it doesn’t blow over at least you’re prewarned for the future.

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Narmowen November 3, 2014 at 12:48 pm

I agree with everything that admin said except what to do with the remaining money. While donating to a charitable organization is a charitable idea, I don’t think it’s necessary. After paying for the funeral expenses, OP can do with as she pleases. It’s a last gift from her uncle. Unless he told her what he wanted done with it (such as donating in his name etc), it’s a gift to her.

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Lisa November 4, 2014 at 9:22 am

I agree. Just because it’s what YOU (generic you) did with money bequeathed to you doesn’t make it the right thing to do.

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Daquiri40 November 3, 2014 at 1:02 pm

I don’t see anything wrong with the niece keeping the money left over from the funeral. How do we not know that the uncle had other money to cover the funeral and did not expect the policy he left his niece to be used for it?

Maybe the uncle knew his two sisters and knew them to be greedy and grasping.

We can assume a lot from the story, none of which may be true.

I am hoping the uncle wanted his niece to get a chunk of change so named her on the policy and no one else.

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just4kicks November 3, 2014 at 1:04 pm

May I first offer my heartfelt condolences on the passing of your dear uncle.
I am so sorry the tawdry subject of money has to be in your thoughts at this sad time.
As mentioned in many of my other posts on other topics, my Dear Dad has been suffering with MS for years now, the bad days are starting to outweigh the good. A few years ago, my parents had a living will drawn up, and asked me to meet them at their lawyers office to officially make me executor to their will.
I have only one sibling, a sister who lives in a different state. She and I have not spoken in three years, and her relationship with my folks is also strained. Long story. Anyway, apparently in a phone call from her a few weeks ago, she asked if my folks had a will, out of the blue. My mom said ” yes, and in the event dad and I die together for some reason, your sister has signed all the necessary paperwork and is the executor. She ( meaning myself) knows what dad and I want, we have discussed the situation in length.” My darling sis took offense to that, and demanded to know why me, as she is four years older than I! My mom, confused as to where exactly this was going, said “because, ‘Susie’…. your little sister lives twenty minutes away from daddy and I….And you live a four hour PLANE ride away from us. In the event of a car crash, or something, she can get to us in less than half an hour….should organ donation and removal of life saving equipment be an issue!!!” My sister made a half hearted excuse to get off the phone and hung up. My folks and I still have no idea what on earth prompted that whole conversation, and its not very reassuring to know (God forbid) if that situation should present itself, I’ll not only have to deal with my parents passing, my heartbroken children, AND apparently my only sister causing some sort of scene because she feels wronged somehow.

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Michelle November 4, 2014 at 8:47 am

My sister is very similar to yours. She is 3 years older than me and thinks she should be in charge of everything. She will call every once in a blue moon and ask weird questions like that and then get mad when she finds out that she is not the decision-maker. You want more say so in what happens? Try coming around more and actually being a part of the family.

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just4kicks November 4, 2014 at 3:05 pm

@Michelle: I couldn’t of said it better myself. That is exactly it.
My mom needs back surgery asap, and keeps putting it off because she is the main caregiver for my dad. My oldest son drives and has his own car, and we go to their house as much as possible. This surgery my mom needs will land her in the hospital for at least three days, and a two week “flat on her back” recuperation at home. I’m going to have to move in there during this time, but with four school age kids and a husband who frequently travels for work, that going to be a major undertaking. I suggested I handle taking care of dad while she is the hospital, and the next week after that. My mom asked my sister if she can come up and take over the second week (my sis works from home, and as long as she has internet access, can work from anywhere). Well!!!! Of COURSE she can’t do that! It’s too much of an inconvenience! She can’t POSSIBLY be expected to put HER life on hold for a whole week! But…even mention a will or inheritance, and magically she is free as a bird for that.
Arghhhh.

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thoughtful November 3, 2014 at 1:08 pm

Interesting run-down by the Admin. I think the issue with donating to charity is tricky…I can very easily imagine situations in which:

1. need by an heir was tangible, particularly when
2. the heir had invested substantial personal resources in caring for the deceased.

#2 is a big problem for heirs who might have quit jobs or incurred permanent damage to their earning power.

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Enna November 3, 2014 at 1:09 pm

Admin, I do think OP’s mother telling her not to go the funneral was mean. Maybe the mother could have involved the OP a bit more? That way if the OP’s mother couldn’t do something due to illness or injury the OPcould step in. As for the phone calls from Mother and Aunty if they were very frequant that is not on. Turning up at work isn’t on either unless it is a real emergancy.

I do agree with Admin on the cost of the funnearl, some things you do need to invest in. I didn’t relise that you needed so many copies of the death certificate and will bear this in mind when I evenutally plan a funearl. The aunty asking for the money is cheeky though because the uncle did leave it to the OP. The sister sounds like real work too.

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Wild Irish Rose November 3, 2014 at 1:20 pm

I love how weddings and funerals bring the worst out in people.
My mother passed away a year ago. I traveled with my two sisters and a friend to another state to attend the funeral and go through her belongings (she lived alone). My brother and his unbelievably rude and creepy girlfriend were also there.
My youngest sister took charge concerning finances. We went through mountains of paperwork, sorting out bills, correspondence, insurance policies, etc. My mother was terribly disorganized, so it was a chore, but we plowed through. Meanwhile, the creepy girlfriend walked around the house indicating the things she wanted. Our friend took her aside and reminded her that NOTHING in that house belonged to her–it belonged to my brother, my sisters, and me. She got mad but there was nothing she could do. Mother had very, very little, and for this woman–whom my brother had known about three months–to lay claims to things in her home just didn’t sit well with us.
Then there was the funeral itself. At the graveside service, four chairs had been arranged in a row by the grave–one for each of my mother’s kids. Creepy Girlfriend deposited herself into a chair until our friend told her to move. At the church service, she INSISTED on sitting in the front row with my brother, so we all sort of shrugged and let it go, but of course she spent the entire time complaining about the cramped seating.
After the funeral service, there was a lunch at the church. My brother, my two sisters, our friend, and I were the only ones present. There was food for 30 people. My brother had told them that there would be that many family members present. He never even bothered to verify with us who would be coming, so he just assumed that all spouses and children would be attending too. It was embarrassing. And it was made worse by Creepy GF blowing her nose at the table. Nonstop. Ick.
The one and only insurance policy we found covered the funeral costs–barely. There were outstanding bills, but my sister took charge of calling creditors and telling them Mother had passed away. My favorite of those was the cell phone provider. My brother had taken Mother’s cell phone, and he and Creepy GF were using it–right up to the moment when my sister called the provider, told them Mother was gone, and asked them to terminate the service immediately, which they did. I hope one of those idiots was actually on the phone when it was shut off.

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just4kicks November 4, 2014 at 3:31 pm

@wild Irish Rose: Holy “bleep”! What gall some people have! I got a laugh out of “I hope they were on the phone when it was disconnected”. Me too.

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Anna November 3, 2014 at 1:23 pm

What stands out to me in this letter is the writer’s apparent schadenfreude over having been the one to be “picked” to receive the death benefits over other family members. Yes, it was a bit entitled and greedy of the aunt to demand that the money be handed over to her for her own personal bills, but it seems as though the general attitude over this money is a bit childish.

As for the mother, I think it is perfectly reasonable to expect that the person who had the ability to follow up with the death benefit, which is supposed to pay for the funeral, do so in a timely manner. If she were the one arranging the funeral, she probably was the one responsible, at least according to the funeral home, for the bill. I am sure that the funeral home does not have the attitude of “pay when you feel like getting around to it,” and so to purposefully delay as a matter of principle (because you are annoyed) is rude, as well as purposefully withholding information about the status of the money. I suspect that the writer rather enjoyed having the bit of power that being the named beneficiary brought, and purposefully stirred the family drama pot in order to exercise and abuse this power.

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Devil's Advocate November 4, 2014 at 9:29 am

The OP was not the one planning the funeral….it was her mother and her aunt. My two cents are as followings:

1. Death benefits can be used for a wide variety of things—OP was not legally obligated to pay for the funeral expenses. The fact that OP did–without being included in the planni–speaks volumes about OP trying to do the right things.

2. I would have balked at a handwritten bill. Sorry–in this day and age where funeral homes are a business, they have at the very least typewritten receipts. If the expenses came from many places–funeral home, florist, clergy, etc. then OP was entitled to receipts from all of those places.

3. OP could give the reminder of the money to charity to keep the peace if as admin said “that is the bone the dogs are fighting over”; hoever, OP doesn’t have a relationship with these people—unless she is loaning them money—so why should she give up something her uncle wanted her to have to keep the peace with relations who seem to care nothing about her.

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Lizajane November 3, 2014 at 1:30 pm

I agree with a lot of what Admin said, the OP did seem reluctant to share information ( like not needing the death certificate). However, (and I know we can’t stray too far into legalities here, but it is the naturd of the post) the OP may not have even been compelled legally to pay for the funefal. Since thre was a beneficiary named, in some states that money wouldn’t have been part of the estate. But bless her for doing so if Uncle’s personal and real property were of insufficient value to cover his funeral.

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Hollyhock November 3, 2014 at 1:33 pm

Agree with some of the admin’s points; the OP could have had more up-front conversations with the other bereaved about funeral costs, etc., which don’t seem too out of line for cremation.

But I disagree she should’ve donated the remaining funds to charity rather than use them for her own purposes.

I have made a lot of bequests to specific individuals, intended to ease their lives after I’m gone via debt paydown or the establishment of a little emergency cushion, or to provide treats like travel. It would anger me greatly if I found out (unlikely from beyond the grave but you know what I mean) that they merely intended to donate it to the charity of their choice.

If I wanted the money to go to charity, I would have directed it to the charities of my own choice. And I know it is said here that one has no say in how a gift is disposed of once it’s given — but I do think it’s disrespectful to receive a gift of cash that is intended to make a material difference to one’s financial security and to bounce it right out to a third party.

Re the airline miles — I would have divvied them up among the children of the deceased, if the airline permitted.

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Shyla November 3, 2014 at 1:38 pm

I’m confused about the death certificate thing. OP seems to think her mom is trying to control access to it and that the OP needed proof of life insurance to get a copy. I thought death certificates were public records. Anyone may have a copy if they pay the courthouse fee for copying. I believe that’s what geneologists do.

The OP obviously dislikes her aunt. She’s free to do so. But it seems her life would be better if she could just move on.

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sharon g November 3, 2014 at 7:42 pm

In Alabama, only an immediate family member can get a death certificate, unless the decease passed away more than 25 years ago.

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Moralia November 3, 2014 at 1:48 pm

I guess the things that stand out like red flags to me in the whole thing is the OP not being kept in the loop on the funeral arrangements despite her financial involvement, being encouraged to not attend and the lack of proper receipts.
It seems to me that if the mother and/or aunt wanted to convince the OP to hand over the rest of the money, (which I can see both sides of on that argument) that the best course of action would have been complete transparency instead of harassment and manipulation.
I’d be a lot more cooperative with someone who approached me with “We’ve made arrangements with XYZ funeral home which will be about $. I have a copy of the itemized bill for you and the funeral home has your info if you should have questions, let me know if you need any additional paperwork from the estate.” THEN, bring up what should be done with the remainder and for heaven’s sake, not say the words, “You don’t deserve it.”

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Alli November 3, 2014 at 1:50 pm

I agree in part with Admin. However, anything with a direct beneficiary is not considered part of the estate. It goes directly to the beneficiary and it is their to do with as they see fit. This is the reason that you should periodically review your beneficiaries.

The estate, ie his assets, should have covered the funeral costs. In the event that he died with nothing but the death policy, Mom and Aunt should have explained this- rather than demanded it.

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Dee November 3, 2014 at 2:04 pm

We only have one side of the story but I don’t see where the funds were slated, by the uncle, for funeral expenses. If the mother was executor (which also is not part of the story) then one would assume there was an estate of some sort – otherwise, what is she executor of? The funeral expenses would be paid out of that estate. And the mother was trying to keep the OP away from the funeral – why? And the surprise visits to OP’s workplace and those phone calls, all lead me to believe that OP’s relatives were most certainly being greedy. I would be surprised if my own mother’s service cost $1000 and it was just fine. I wouldn’t want my family to spend that much and I would be happy to have my ashes scattered in a backwoods; maybe uncle would have like that, too. In fact, in all this, what’s missing is what the uncle wanted. And it was his money.

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nannerdoman November 3, 2014 at 2:23 pm

” . . . let me just say this about my sister: her two biggest achievements in life were surgically implanted into her chest.”

OP, you’re no model of etiquette yourself, posting such a gratuitous insult. Your family dynamics seem to have been seriously messed up long before your uncle’s death.

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hakayama November 3, 2014 at 9:45 pm

Would you agree that in this thread, etiquette is really secondary subject, right? Here we have a woman pained by her own blood family’s shortcomings and hurtful actions.
The sister is someone that hurt OP badly, and would be best left by the wayside. If she were not a relative, OP most likely would not stay in touch. Somehow, when we read/hear about estranged family members, this type of behavior is what causes the distancing, even between quite close relatives. Think of the distinctions: kin, family; father, dad, etc.
What seemingly you call an insult, in my opinion was a brief, witty but all-encompassing characterization of an individual whose likes even, the apparently charitable, YOU probably would rather not meet. (My customary amateur description of that non-lady would be “cunning, amoral, selfish” … Whew! At least this time I did not use any psychobabble terminology.) 😉
The etiquette aspect of this story, the breaches committed by Mom and Aunt, are the surface. YOU are right about the family dynamics. They are messy, but certain diplomatic niceties can be observed no matter how rotten the background. One can think “you are lying through your rotting teeth”, but say “you are mistaken”…

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Reboot November 4, 2014 at 12:31 am

This. How is it relevant to anything that OP’s sister has breast implants?

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hakayama November 4, 2014 at 8:51 am

Please note that they are shown as sister’s life “achievements”. Doesn’t that speak volumes about the sister? Let’s not forget her “coming onto” OP’s husband… Isn’t it clear that OP is deeply unhappy about that sister creature, and it’s to her credit that she just came up with ONE cutting remark about her? When she could have used every noun and adjective, both elegant and vulgar, to refer to her?
C’mon guys! The letter writer is presenting us with superficial glimpses of her sick family. Very, very telling glimpses. We should be able to “fill in” the background…
And the “back story” of the material details regarding the uncle, that some commenters feel is missing, is totally irrelevant to the big picture. A picture a family that “stays together” out of habit and convention if not convenience. A family that the writer is deeply unhappy about.
And it’s not about the money. Or maybe it is, but only as an “instrument” that helped peel the neutral surface and showed the ugly underside.
Just think: cost of flowers from “all of us” reimbursed by the beneficiary… TACKY if nothing else.

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Lucretia November 4, 2014 at 12:01 pm

Is this story about the sister? Or about the pass she made at the OP’s husband? It makes the OP look petty, true or not, and is unnecessary from a narrative standpoint. It provides no relevant background- the fact that the sister was after a share of money is sufficient without dragging in her implants or the OP’s husband.

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starstruck November 3, 2014 at 3:02 pm

it isnt hard to see what was going on here. i think the op wanted very much to pocket what ever was left over from the insurance policy for herself. not that legally she wasn’t entitled to keep it, but by not telling her mother and aunt the amount, she left them to plan and organize a funeral on an unknown budget and very likely cut a few corners they might not have had to , had they known how much they had to work with . i find that kinda cruel actually. they were already grieving and then had to worry about having enough money. and yes, a funeral for less than 5,000.00 is very inexpensive. unheard of really. had it been me, i would have told my mom the exact amount right away and let her plan whatever funeral for her brother she desired , even if it meant it would cost the whole amount.

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B November 4, 2014 at 5:19 am

Eh? I don’t think you’ve understood this post at all. The OP clearly states that she was ‘not allowed’ to help plan the funeral, and that her mother went on a ‘spending spree’ without telling her. How on earth is that ‘cruel’ of her? What was she supposed to do?

I think you also missed the point that the OP’s legacy from her uncle was not specifically designated to pay for his funeral anyway, and she was under no obligation to do so. She did it because it was the ‘right thing to do’.

Perhaps if she’d been allowed to help plan the funeral, she could have spent more, but the mother chose to shut her out of it so we will never now.

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starstruck November 4, 2014 at 3:26 pm

actually, i understood it perfectly well. the money the op received was for the funeral expenses . she purposely withheld the information as to the amount, and the money itself. causing undue stress for her mother who was planning her brothers funeral. so yes i find that cruel. planning anything on an unknown budget would be stressful , no matter the event. in this case a funeral. why wouldn’t she just tell her mother? “mom , we have this much to plan uncle so and so’s funeral.” it doesn’t take sherlock holmes to see she wanted to pocket some of that money. which would be in her legal right of course, but she did bring this drama on herself. she also said she lead her aunt and mother to believe the policy was for five thousand when she knew very well it was for 10 thousand.

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starstruck November 4, 2014 at 3:27 pm

i would love to hear the mothers side to this story

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hakayama November 4, 2014 at 10:33 pm

I’m very tempted to write it… Problem is that I’ll be away from this “connection” for the next two days, and this story might just disappear beyond the horizon. If it doesn’t, please look for “mother’s side” at the very end of comments.

B November 5, 2014 at 5:57 am

“the money the op received was for the funeral expenses”

No, it wasn’t. The money was a death in service benefit left to her by her uncle. She CHOSE to pay for the funeral out of it because she thought it was ‘the right thing to do’, but she did not have to.

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admin November 5, 2014 at 4:10 pm

Read the first paragraph carefully. A “distant relative” suggested “that someone should check with the School Retirement Agency to see if there would be any funds available to cover the funeral expenses.” It appears that there was not money set aside for funeral expenses and this was suggested as a means to pay for those costs. The fact that the OP does not state any objection to paying for the funeral indicates to me that there was a need for some means to pay for the funeral which she understood. What is at issue is how much money was spent on the funeral and who has the rights to the remaining funds.

Cleo November 5, 2014 at 7:08 am

But she told her mother it was $10,000 minus taxes….

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starstruck November 5, 2014 at 8:13 pm

you are correct. but she told her AFTER the funeral was already over, not before.

Livvy17 November 3, 2014 at 3:09 pm

I’m a little surprised by the response from the admin….while it’s possible that she was the executor, the OP doesn’t say that she was. The mom excluded the OP early on from the choice side of the equation, and then pushed hard on the collection side of the equation. While she sounds better than the aunt, I don’t know that the OP was overreacting. To me, it sounded like there was a lot of previous history that the OP didn’t detail. I do agree that the OP should have more forcefully said what she would/wouldn’t do with the money, to end the speculation and squabbling, but she shouldn’t strictly have to do so. In other circumstances we’d argue that it’s not required to satisfy other people’s curiosity.

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Kelly November 3, 2014 at 3:42 pm

I’m confused – I don’t see anywhere in the OP where the policy itself was intended to cover funeral services; that seems to be what the family wanted to use it for, but if OP was the legal beneficiary and it was a standard death benefit, she could use it for whatever she wanted to. Paying funeral expenses is of course the right thing to do, but it isn’t legally required, as such benefits would not be a part of the estate per se.

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Library Diva November 3, 2014 at 5:04 pm

It sounds like there’s a whole lotta backstory here. I don’t think his or her family relationships are what one would wish them to be. Money IS better than some relationships. Heck, used kitty litter ranks above some relationships.I don’t think OP is in any way obligated to give away this windfall. OP’s uncle wanted him or her to have it, for whatever reason, and the uncle is the only family member mentioned here that OP seems to have had a good relationship with. I’m sure OP can find a good use for the money left from paying for funeral expenses.

I do agree, from rather recent experience, that the costs aren’t out of line for a cremation. It cost around $1300 to cremate my mom, including the urn, pickup of both the body and the ashes, death certificates, and a rush on the whole thing because we were out of state and just wanted to go home. The memorial service we held was pretty simple, but we did give dinner to about 50 people afterwards, so I wouldn’t be surprised if the bill for my mother’s final expenses were comparable to OP’s uncle. We were neither trying to be thrifty nor extravagant, just to celebrate her life in our own way and in accordance with what we believed her wishes to be.

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NostalgicGal November 3, 2014 at 7:09 pm

My father’s cremation and ash return in a plastic container; was $3500! There was no service at his request, no funeral, and no casket (just the plain little box they put someone in to cremate them in those circumstances). With other things that needed settling the $10k policy just covered what needed covering, I had like $30 left. And this wasn’t a huge huge urban city either.

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Library Diva November 4, 2014 at 10:22 am

Yikes! And I thought $1300 was a bit much…then again, I was comparing it to the $800 we would have paid in dealing directly with the crematorium. The “urn” was a plain wooden box, but we had to buy it. During that conversation, I kept my eyes firmly fixed on the table because I kept thinking of that scene in The Big Lebowski. There was even a grocery store right across the parking lot of this funeral home, too, but no, we did not walk over, buy a can of coffee and dump out the coffee so we could use the can.

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admin November 4, 2014 at 11:14 am

Of the family cremains I am aware of, the funeral home gave them to the widow(er) in a cardboard box with the ashes in a sealed, plastic bag.

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NostalgicGal November 4, 2014 at 8:59 pm

My father resides in a dark dark brown plastic cylinder with a flat screw on lid that blends into the the cylinder when closed. There is a tiny bit of something in the very thin line break of where the lid and body of cylinder is, so it is sealed somehow. It reminds me for the world of a very large container you would get parmesan cheese in except no snap up top bits to sprinkle or spoon stuff out. He wanted his ashes sprinkled, and I got the permissions on where; then my mother decided to keep the urn. I defer to her, when she dies I will then continue with his last wishes, and hers (she will also have a no-funeral cremation). The plastic is not a high density, it has a rather dull look and softer feel to it. There is NO recycle marking on it, but I am betting if put in a hole in ground it will break down.

Library Diva November 5, 2014 at 3:57 pm

We were told we couldn’t do that. We did ask. The container we purchased cost about $100. It looks exactly like the box my cat’s cremains are in: same general shape, same wood stain, just bigger. We plan to scatter at least a portion of them eventually. I have not yet brought this up with my dad. He keeps them on a console table right next to his chair and I think he likes having them, at least for now.

Dublin November 3, 2014 at 6:15 pm

I feel like there is a whole lot of backstory missing here. Clearly she has issues with her family that go a lot deeper than this incident and I think parts of this story might be a little out of context. There appears to be no members of her family she actually gets along with except her departed uncle. If is was long understood that she was named the beneficiary of this benefit, then was there never any discussion about what the money was to be used for? Was there a will? Was her mother the executor or just took over arrangements? It doesn’t sound like any of the expenses used for the funeral were unreasonable, so why all the fuss about flowers and copies of the death certificate? At my fathers funeral, the funeral home gave us many copies so we could deal with the estate. What sinister plot could possibly be in play by them receiving multiple copies of the death cert?If it was expected that the money would cover costs then why didn’t you speak to them about it? Why did it get to a point where they called and stalked you at work? Seems like if you just dealt with the issue, they wouldn’t have had to go to such lengths. The only way a question like that from your Mom would be offensive to you is if there was already issues there that need addressing. The snide comment about your sister was out of place and unnecessary. The aunt does seem pretty presumptuous to have expected any of the money so I will concede that one. Most of the post seems to be dripping with bitter anger and fixating on things that aren’t really big problems. You go to great length explaining the betrayal of the speaker phone call but not why you were asked to not attend the funeral. There is a lot of suspicion about the death certs but that pretty standard. Your own statement suggests your mom is reaching out to you and you are flat out ignoring her efforts. I suspect there must be a lot more going on here to justify the bitter and angry tone to this post.
I had an awful experience with family after the death of my father earlier this year. I wrote about it my self in a previous post because I found it somewhat therapeutic as you seem to imply at the end of your note. The one thing I learned was that family is important but extremely complicated. Its easy to think that life can be better with out but usually its just easier, not better. It sounds like you might have an opportunity here to build on your relationship with your family and try to mend some wounds. Whatever the backstory, its worth it to try and fix whatever the problems you have with them. Talk to your family about how you feel about the funeral. It might be a good place to start with them and hopefully be able to reconcile.

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Library Diva November 4, 2014 at 10:26 am

“The one thing I learned was that family is important but extremely complicated. Its easy to think that life can be better with out but usually its just easier, not better.”

Thanks for writing that. I needed to hear that due to something going on right now with a family member.

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yokozbornak November 3, 2014 at 7:05 pm

I have to disagree with the admin. The OP had no obligation to fund the funeral but chose to do so. Policies like that are not part of the estate so her mother and aunt had absolutely no claim to the money at all and shouldn’t have counted on it for funeral expenses. If her mother was the executrix, I would almost bet she paid for the funeral out of the estate with the real receipts and pocketed what the OP paid. Plus, if her mother and aunt were the ones who were inheriting the estate, having the OP pay for the funeral increases their cut of the money. It is interesting to me that her mother originally thought she was getting 5K which when reduced by taxes would probably be about the 3.5K that mom claimed. Yes, I am suspicious because I have family members who will and would exploit any angle they can to increase their share every one else be darned.

For full disclosure, my two sisters didn’t bother to speak to my father in the last six months of his life because they were mad at mom and then threatened to sue her because they felt they deserved what little money and property he had. It was just an ugly and nasty situation. I know how crazy people can get when money is involved especially if there is dysfunction there already. The OP knows these people and knows what they are capable of so I trust that she knows when they are trying to scam her and take advantage of her. For a normal family, asking how the money will be spent may be an innocuous question, but for families like mine, and apparently the OPs, questions like that come with a lot of baggage and past history.

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hakayama November 3, 2014 at 8:14 pm

Dear OP: Condolences on the loss of your dear Uncle. Also condolences on a family that kind, decent people should not have to deal with.
It is a pity that the distaff side of your family seems to be driven by money, and unfortunately does not have the finesse to act with discretion. Greed and decorum are not mutually exclusive, right? If only your Mom and Aunt acted tactfully, and not crossed the boundaries of proper behavior…

I am posting this after 31 prior entries, and I fully agree with most of them. And fully disagree with a few… especially with the person who thinks that you, OP, took a cheap shot at your sister. She conveniently forgot that Sis behaved abominably (I’m trying to be diplomatic here), waaay before the funeral fiasco.
Of course, there’s no “other side” of the story shown here. This forum is not a court where the “accused” have the right to refute the charges, etc. Do we mistrust the posters to the extent of doubting their word? Completely? Even if their statements are tinged with personal emotions?
And, NO, I do not see Schadenfreude on OP’s part. What I see is the hurt of being left out of the planning, even told that her presence was not necessary… WHO DOES THAT? And WHY was she told that she should stay away?
What I see in OP’s words and actions is someone who did manage to keep calm and unruffled even in dealing with ill-mannered harpies. It must have hurt her too to see that her own blood family members acted like vultures. Or hyenas.
I wonder if the family would not have arranged a funeral if there had been no “death benefit” from Uncle’s retirement fund. I know that MINE did. Within a sane budget, but without looking for, or waiting for any outside funding.
On donations: A retirement fund of a professional or trade organization is NOT a charitable organization at all. It’s not good a place to even start thinking of making a donation to. I doubt that there are any “mechanics” for that sort of thing. However, a local school can be given funds for a worthy cause, with a specific designation of the purpose, so that if Uncle was a bookworm the money will not go for sports equipment. 😉

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Marozia November 4, 2014 at 3:22 am

Condolences on the loss of your beloved uncle.
This sounds to me like ‘If I (mum/aunt) can’t have it, either should she’ (you). That’s probably why they’d gone overboard with funeral expenses. No doubt mother and aunt knew they were not going to get a cent, so why not milk beneficiary for the funeral expenses.
I wonder what would happen if you decided not to pay up because of these unauthorised expenses. Shouldn’t they have gone to you first to clear the arrangements?

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sparklytiara November 4, 2014 at 6:09 am

I am still digesting the OP’s story, but I must respectfully disagree with the Admin on the death certificates. I was the executrix for both of my parents’ estates, and in neither case did I order 20 death certificates. That number seems high to me.

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admin November 4, 2014 at 6:51 am

http://wills.about.com/b/2012/03/21/how-many-death-certificates-do-you-need.htm “At least 15 ordered…”
http://www.dailyfinance.com/2011/02/14/death-and-finances-eight-things-to-do-after-a-loved-one-passes/ “Obtain at least 10 copies; 20 copies would be even better.”

The executor will need a copy of the death certificate for all of the following accounts/financial transactions:
Living Trust
Trust Accounts
Stocks
Mutual Funds
401K
Any type of IRA
Safety deposit box
State Tax Returns (IRS)
Federal Tax Returns
Cell Phone Companies
Social Security (There is a $255 Death benefit to the surviving spouse)
Deed of Trust (Property)
All Insurance Companies (Life, Health, Auto, etc)
Bonds
Retirement Accounts
Annuity
403C
Employer (if still working)
DMV
All Major Credit Cards
Department Store Credit Cards
Any type of Bank Account

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wren November 4, 2014 at 9:04 am

And don’t forget that extra death certificates make dandy souvenirs. After my father died, my stepmother mailed each of his daughters from his previous marriages a death certificate. Why, I don’t know. We had no ties to him at all; efforts to get together over the years were too hurtful for his current wife, since we were living symbols of his other wives. Our names were spelled wrong in his obit and there was no mention whatsoever that we were the issue of one of his marriages or that our mothers had even existed — we appeared to be the bastard spawn of the second-t0-last paragraph in the obit. Receiving his death certificate in the mail was plain old creepy but I guess she felt like she had to make use of them.

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Jen November 4, 2014 at 11:30 am

Sometimes the state requires that you send the actual biological children death certificates. When my stepfather died, my mom had to send letters and death certificates to his biological children before she filed the will (we had a car that a grandson wanted so they had to know about it), me as her daughter his stepdaughter did not have to receive one.

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wren November 4, 2014 at 11:55 am

This makes sense. It also just occurred to me that she thought I might need it down the road, for some reason yet to be known. Obviously I am still seeing evil intent behind everything my stepmother did. Sorry about that, universe.

hakayama November 4, 2014 at 12:56 pm

Could it be that the woman was a bit confused? After all, some folks do save wedding invitations. 😉
She probably was a prime candidate for the 15–20 percent of the general US population that, according to those “in the know”, is off the beam in varying degrees.

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Lizajane November 4, 2014 at 4:47 pm

Ok, you win.

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Lucretia November 4, 2014 at 12:08 pm

Credit cards and banks will often take a copy and give you the original. In fact, Bank of America just needed to see it, and didn’t take a copy at all. Stocks and other assets were transferred via a living trust, and also only needed a copy of the certificate . Respectfully, you don’t need that many- at least in California. We got by with 2- we ordered 10, and still have 8 in our possession. I think a lot of people don’t know that they can ask for their official death certificates back and have institutions make copies. I should know, I’ve been spending the aftermath of my father’s death recently clearing these things. Hopefully that will put some information out there- although my information is specific to the state of California, and other states may have different rules. The copies are expensive, and it’s a bit hard when money becomes tight after a death. It’s nice to spare it for the business of living if you can.

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Schnickelfritz November 4, 2014 at 7:53 pm

Exactly! I had the same experience, and the funeral director told us NOT to buy extra. They provided 4-5 – and we still have a couple. Copies are indeed accepted, and they will hand it back to you. They cost about $15 – $20 each. A few businesses, accepted a copy of the obit, via scanned e-mail!

I am on the other coast from you, Lucretia! Same experience, and a wise funeral director to let us know ahead of time.

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Elizabeth November 4, 2014 at 1:15 pm

Much of the list would/should have designated beneficiaries for which no certified copy of the death certificate is necessary.

Certified copies of death certificates are an income source to municipalities – they will tell you to order 30 ‘just to be sure.’

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admin November 4, 2014 at 5:02 pm

Unless you happen to need over 20 like we did.

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Carol57 November 4, 2014 at 3:20 pm

I have been the administrator or executor of three estates in the past three and did not need 20 certified death certificates for all of them combined. Many entities accepted faxed and/or scanned submissions, not an original. Others returned the originals to me once they had done whatever needed to be done. One copy to the bank closed bank accounts, a credit card, an IRA, and safe deposit box. Others did not require them at all — they accepted copies of my letters of administration from the courts overseeing probate as giving me authority to close accounts.

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admin November 4, 2014 at 5:00 pm

I’m sure your experience is valid but mine is also. Minimum of 20 needed for one parent, over 20 for the other. It is completely plausible that someone needed 20 copies of a death certificate.

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Meeples November 4, 2014 at 6:30 pm

Clearly, each estate is different. Given the executor’s fiduciary duty to the estate, if there was in fact an executor ordering death certificates at the funeral in this case (and it’s unlikely the court would appoint the executor in that timeframe), an executor would be well advised to start with a lower number and request additional copies when needed.

NostalgicGal November 4, 2014 at 9:05 pm

I needed 11, I ordered 15, and I had a few resends so I ended up with one left.

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sparklytiara November 5, 2014 at 6:11 am

Admin, I stand corrected :-). I had a relatively easy time with my parents’ estates.

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admin November 5, 2014 at 8:51 am

Someday I will tell the story of the probate of my father’s estate. Friends told me, “Jeanne, if I did not know you personally, I would never believe this story.” But a 4 inch thick pile of documents filed with the Superior Court confirms every word. I can lay claim to having vanquished the king of all greedy narcissists. The probate of my father-in-law’s estate was less messy from a relationship standpoint but he had so many accounts accumulated over 60 years that none of us knew about, even his widow, and it took months of work and dozens of death certificates to close accounts, tie up lose ends.

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honoria November 6, 2014 at 3:19 pm

I am so sorry you had to go through all that.

NostalgicGal November 7, 2014 at 9:22 pm

My condolences, Jeanne. Maybe after I finish up the final chapter, I’ll meet you for coffee, a stiff drink (a chocolate shake counts), or something like that; and we can compare notes. May you never have to go through anything so onerous again. Bravo that you succeeded.

Otterpop November 4, 2014 at 8:29 am

People cannot shut off their feelings when they give something that cost time, money and thoughtfulness (understanding the uncle is deceased). My own example: I gave my aunt an expensive coffee maker last Christmas, she gave it away days later. I meant to bless her, not burden her. Her right, but I still have feelings.

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Margo November 4, 2014 at 8:29 am

I’m a little puzzled as to why OP felt she had to pay for the funeral at all.

Unless Uncle speacifically stated that he wanted her to do so, then surely normally the funeral is paid for from the estate, before that is distributed.

If Uncle left nothing but the policy then OP might reasonably feel that she ought to use the money in that way, but otherwise it seems extremely opportunistic of the other family members to assume that OP would foot the bill.
I think OP was very generous to do so, particularly given how she was excluded from the planning. I would not have paid any check to the mother i this scenario – like a PP, I wonder whether the funeral was paid from the estate in the normal way and then the money from OP was pocketed.

I don;t see any reason why OP should be expected to donate any balance, either – her uncle chose to name her as beneficiary and nowhere that I can see in the story, did he make an stipulations at all about how she should use that money.

OP, I am sorry for your loss.

OP, I hope you use the balance to do something which you enjoy or get pleasure from, and that you gain comfort from knowing that your uncle clearly had a good opinion of you.

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AnaMaria November 4, 2014 at 8:49 am

I agree that the OP might not be acting completely fair towards her mother, but I can’t blame her for having her feathers ruffled with the treatment she is getting from her nutso aunt!

I am also a teacher and my district offers a very generous life insurance policy (I currently have my parents listed as the beneficiary, with my only sibling second in line- if I marry or have children it is understood that I will switch it over to my spouse and children’s names). I have expressed to my parents what I would like for a funeral, and I hope/expect that they will honor my wishes. Any money left over (and they would have to have a HUGE, elaborate funeral service and burial site to spend it all!) is theirs to keep. The only thing that I wouldn’t want would be for them to give it to a cause I didn’t believe in (such as a political movement that I was against), but that’s what you consider when you choose your beneficiary. I’m guessing the OP’s uncle chose her over other family members for that reason- he believed she would put the money to better use.

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mrs_deb November 4, 2014 at 8:50 am

Death makes people crazy. That’s all I’ve got to say.

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hakayama November 4, 2014 at 1:03 pm

Money makes people crazy. It doesn’t have to be a lot. It was not their brother’s death that made the OP’s mother and aunt act weird. It was their pursuit of the “free” money…
Lack of (proper) perspective also makes people crazy.

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Skaramouche November 4, 2014 at 9:27 am

What I don’t understand is, was the estate so completely decimated that there was no money left for the funeral? Was the ONLY source of remaining money this death benefit? I researched “death benefit” just to be sure and didn’t find any concrete link between that and funeral expenses. Many people, especially spouses, use this money for funeral costs but it is not earmarked as such. From what i can see, the death benefit is intended to help surviving family “adjust to the loss of the loved one”, be it financial support, emotional support or whatever else. If the uncle had wanted it to be used for the funeral, wouldn’t he have willed it to the estate or the executor and indicated that? Also, if 20 copies of the death certificate were legitimately required, doesn’t that also indicate other investments and sources of money? Surely all 20 cannot be for creditors? Lastly, even if the mother was the executor, is it common for executors to chase other beneficiaries (of life insurance, death benefit or other benefits) for funeral money? Either this uncle planned REALLY poorly so that there literally was no other source to cover funeral costs or…I am honestly at a loss.

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alex November 4, 2014 at 9:48 am

Wow. I am in shock that everyone is blaming the OP so much. Honestly, the OP was the beneficiary of a death policy- I don’t even know if that makes her legally responsible to pay for the funeral. And she didn’t have to give anyone else the money. Her uncle probably named her beneficiary because of how crazy his sisters were. I don’t think the funeral expenses were high or anything like that but I think the way it was handled was not correct.

OP I am sorry for your loss. I would have been puzzled like you were with your mother saying you didn’t have to come. To me I would think someone was hiding something if they said that.

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Laura November 4, 2014 at 11:07 am

Little worse than dealing with greedy relatives! Been there.
But it’s also difficult being the executrix of an estate and I can kind of feel for the mom who was put off for WEEKS about financial matters of the estate. Funerals are very pricy and $3,500 seems like a modest amount all things considered. If mom fronted the money to service providers I can understand her urgency in wanting to know when the OP was going to collect and disburse the funds in the death policy.

The Aunt sounds just horrible! And perhaps mom isn’t much better. But I think the situation could’ve been alleviated a bit by distributing the money ASAP instead of waiting weeks. Or perhaps by giving a budget for the funeral..

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KarenK November 4, 2014 at 6:38 pm

But, as it has been stated before, the insurance payout to the OP was not part of the estate, and she was not obligated to pay for the funeral at all. It was generous of her to do so, but the mom and aunt should not have relied on that money.

We’re kind of in a similar situation with my father. I’m the beneficiary of a small ($10,000) life insurance policy on my dad. I know it’s to pay for the funeral, but technically, it’s my money and I don’t have to do that, but I will.

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Abby November 4, 2014 at 3:58 pm

I *do* think the right thing to do with the money is offer to pay for the funeral, but if it were me, if I was going to be paying for the funeral, I would insist on being a part of the planning. I wouldn’t want to be on the hook for paying for something if I had no input over the final dollar amount. I thought this story was leading up to Aunt and Mom throwing an extremely extravagant funeral beyond what check amount the OP received, and still expected the OP to pay for all of it.

I would say if Uncle made it be known, hey I have this death benefit, I’m going to put Niece as the beneficiary, and this money can be used to fund my funeral so no one has to go broke paying for it, then I would say Niece was morally obligated to put the money she received towards the funeral. If no conversation like that was had, then it’s hers to do whatever she wants, but I still think offering to cover the funeral is the nice thing to do.

It sounds to me like the mom or aunt put up the money and wanted to be reimbursed- hence the handwritten bill. The numbers may have been padded a little, but $3,500, even for a cremation, doesn’t sound like they added too much, especially if there was food included.

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Schnickelfritz November 4, 2014 at 7:00 pm

I have settled two estates in the U.S. The will designates distributing the belongings, selling home, whom gets the car – or sell it, bank accounts, etc. all tallied up. Then you pay off all the credit cards, close accounts, open the “estate” checking account to pay all the final bills, etc. You must wait one year to be sure all bills are handled (medical, etc.) then the leftover total is distributed, as outlined in THE WILL.
For a single person, like Uncle, the life insurance designated to his niece – belongs to her. If he has absolutely no funds for a funeral in his ESTATE – it was nice of her to offer up the life insurance. She was under no obligation. He may have been better off financially when he named her. My estate is set up exactly like this. I have enough $$ for a funeral; and my life insurance, 401(k), etc., has specific beneficiaries. It is no business of anyone else, what the beneficiary does with it, if my expenses are paid by my estate. I would be furious, if someone gave my estate or life insurance money, to a charity. I would rather they give it to another of my family members, who could really use it, if they did not need or want it. I am very, very particular about charities – and prefer that someone I love in direct need, get their bills paid off, or a good car, student loan paid etc.
Otherwise, you name the beneficiary as “my estate” for your life insurance, 401(k), savings accounts, etc. If you are married, the estate is not dissolved, of course. As her Uncle designated her the life insurance, she is under no obligation to share it. Of course, if he had zilch when he passed, a decent person would pay the funeral with it. Otherwise, a spouse would use it, to pay for the funeral, hopefully with money left over to help her live as she has.
The mother and aunt were wrong, to expect the niece to pay for it, without input in planning, and asking her not to attend. It makes me believe, the estate had the money to pay for it, that the mother and aunt wanted, they were probably beneficiaries of this will; instead of paying for the funeral out of it (funny the niece did not get real receipts).
As to the death certificates – nope. I was advised twice, by the funeral director, to only purchase 4-5. Most places accept a copy – you do not necessarily need the certified “stamp” copy – they are very expensive. We sent a copy of the certificate, and a copy of the obit – SCANNED and via e-mail, to close many out-of-town accounts. The funeral director actually handled the main policy for burial, handled the changes in social security for the widow, canceled the SS for the single person. They warned us NOT to buy too many “certified” certificates. I still have a couple of the “certified” we didn’t need, as copies were fine.

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Cherry91 November 5, 2014 at 8:55 am

I am of course projecting somewhat, but personally most of my family would be happier if I used a chunk of inheritance to pay my student loans or use as a deposit on a house.

Charity is an extremely complex matter, which is why I think donating on someone else’s behalf is a bad idea. There are charitable organisations that have lost the support of myself and my family forever because of bad behaviour that might seem good options for donation at first glance to a well wisher.

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AngieM November 5, 2014 at 1:38 pm

I’m not sure if she was obligated to pay for the funeral or not…my DH’s dad had a policy that could only be used for the funeral expenses before the rest could be distributed to any family members. It was required to be that way to meet Medicaid requirements, otherwise it was an asset of the estate and counted against him. We had to prove we used it for funeral expenses.

People in grief do strange things. I know it was easier to have fewer people planning my FIL’s funeral than if his entire family tried to weigh in. During grief-filled moments, just slogging through can be as much as anyone can do. Perhaps Mom and Aunt just wanted to get it done. It sounds like there are complicated issues in the family that pre-date this whole issue. I agree with admin that perhaps donating it, while not required, might ease the stress because then the OP isn’t benefitting from the policy while no one else is.

My FIL’s funeral was a similar hulabaloo. He had been in a nursing home for the previous two years, in a locked Alzheimer’s ward due to several strokes and some dementia. He died suddenly while attending an AA function at a local hotel (he had several friends who would check him out of the home with our permission to attend the things when he was doing well) DH was his guardian and none of his other family (brother or sister, FIL’s grandchildren) ever went to the home to visit besides us, even though the home was just as close to them as it was to us. When he died, we took care of all of the funeral arrangements but people still complained that we didn’t do it the way “he would have wanted” (How they would have known what he wanted is still beyond me, as none of them had spent any time with him in the last few years). We took a lot of heat for having two services (one in our city where FIL’s family is and which was the only way his elderly sisters and most of his nieces and nephews could attend) and one in DH’s hometown where FIL had lived for 30 years before going to the nursing home. We spent too much money, we made it too complicated, the whole nine yards. We just kept doing what we knew we had talked to Dad about in his lucid moments in the previous two years and figured that it would all work out in the end. Wishful thinking…I can only imagine the huge mess when MIL passes away.

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admin November 6, 2014 at 4:48 pm

There was justice, truth and reconciliation in the end (um, not reconciliation with the evil, greedy one who is now referred to in the family as “He Who Shall Not Be Named”) so it was all good.

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