Early Widowhood: Estate Dramas

Some individuals arrange and keep their affairs in order; others avoid it diligently. My late husband was one of the latter. I did force him to prepare a will and a Power of Attorney eight years before he died. He refused to discuss anything else to do with his possible death, and I had no idea of his last wishes. This turned out to be distressing for the family and me especially.

Therefore I approached the work on his estate with trepidation. I chose to do it as soon as possible after his memorial service because I needed to secure my financial position quickly. Our big home cost a lot to run each month, and I had large expenses from his funeral and bills to pay. Would there be enough funds to do so?

Fortunately, I was the sole beneficiary and sole executor of his will that gave me considerable power over his personal affairs. I immediately found out he had not paid any bills or taxes for two years. Drama #1. Then I discovered all his credit cards were maxed out and his bank accounts, overdrawn. Drama #2. I had also inherited his consulting company, but the accounts receivable wouldn’t cover the shortfall. Drama #3.

Long walks helped me decide what to do. Postpone the estate? Or, solve it? I chose to tackle it and get it behind me so I could move forward from the anxiety. It was a full time job for six months before the worst was over. First I explained the situation to our accountant and financial advisor, who immediately put a huge deposit in my bank account. That took care of the bills, including fifty thousand dollars for renos done six months before. I breathed again.

Another supremely challenging aspect of the estate concerned my husband’s online life. He left behind very few passwords and zero records of online subscriptions and forums, of which there were many. With the help of my son-in-law, we hacked into his computer, and I became a detective. His incoming emails help me to identify and close down most of his accounts, but it took hours and hours — some companies were sympathetic, others unhelpful. The remainder that I couldn’t resolve took care of themselves when I closed his credit cards and bank accounts earlier than advised.

This period was filled with anger — I would not wish my discoveries and misery on anyone mourning a spouse. I managed because I’m practical and determined. Also I had mega-support and assistance from my accountant and lawyer; I couldn’t have coped without them.

Later when I was clearing out my husband’s office, I found two identical $10,000 cameras — one still in its box — and many other expensive items that had never been opened or used. He’d been shopping with abandon.

Understanding dawned — he’d been suffering memory loss due to vascular dementia. It explained his duplicate purchases and not paying his bills, his failing money management, and many more incidents that suddenly clicked into focus.

My anger was replaced with deep sadness — not for my loss, but for his.

© Julie H. Ferguson 2017

Vancouver-based Julie H. Ferguson is an addicted traveler who is intensely interested in the history and culture of foreign lands, as well as Canada, and her stories and images reflect this focus. Julie never leaves home without her cameras and voice recorder, always looking for the colour and sounds that captivate readers everywhere.

A non-fiction writer for forty-five years and an avid photographer, Julie is also the author of twenty-six books, including four about Canadian naval and church history, six for writers, and sixteen photo portfolios. Her articles have appeared in national and international markets, both print and online, and her images have been exhibited, published, and sold.