February 10th, 2011


Cousin Hunt

[I seem to be in a thoughtful mood today, and have several posts stacked up. Consider yourselves warned.]

Now that the horror of the past few weeks is done, it's time for me to start settling into the more humdrum pain in the ass of settling Jane's estate. I met with Joan (our lawyer) yesterday, and she clarified a bunch of stuff, but did confirm that my first problem is tracking down cousins.

Did you know Jane had cousins?

I was vaguely aware of their existence, but that's about it -- I think I met a few of them once, in the 25 years we were together, and couldn't have told you how many there were, much less their names. Aside from her parents (who we saw often), Jane wasn't at all close to the rest of her family. Besides simple geography (the cousins didn't live near her), that may be a consequence of her being the baby of the family. Her parents married quite late (it was his second marriage, after his first wife died), and she was born when her mother was 40, her father 50. So all of her cousins were much older than she, which I hypothesize is part of why she never really got to know them at all.

(I sometimes point out that she and I were technically different generations. She was the youngest of her family across several levels of cousins, I the oldest. Her father and my grandfather were contemporaries at Lafayette. But we met in the middle, with her just a few years older than me.)

Anyway, the first step of settling her estate is getting myself named as administrator. This seems straightforward, but it requires that all of the "heirs at law" assent to it -- and the first cousins are all heirs at law.

This is the first of what I expect will be a lot of "conversations I wish we'd had" slapping me in the face, because I have no *clue* how to contact the cousins. She was in at best very slight touch with them. The last contact I'm aware of was several years ago, when her mother died. Jane looked up one of the cousins to tell him -- only to discover that someone else in the family (another of the cousins?) had died a couple of years earlier, and nobody had through to track down Jane and tell *her*. Like I said, they weren't close.

But I need to make at least a serious good-faith effort to track them down, so that's the project for the next couple of weeks. Step one seems straightforward: go into her email and Facebook accounts, and see if there seem to be any entries for them there. I suspect I won't find them directly linked on Facebook (since I don't think any of them contacted me when I announced her death), but it's worth a try, especially since I know she had *some* way of contacting at least *some* of them. (And I figure that, if I can find *one* entry point into each side of the family, contacting the rest from there will be more straightforward.)

If that doesn't pan out, I may put out a call for assistance tracking them down. The one saving grace here is that Jane was, characteristically, a serious and talented genealogist, with thousands of entries (yes, literally) in her family tree. So I've got a family tree that lists what I assume are all the cousins, with names, dates of birth, and more often than not birthplaces and spouses. In principle, this seems like it should suffice to track them down, but I might still need advice and help actually doing so.

On the bright side, the better news from Joan yesterday is that a *lot* more expenses than I'd been thinking of count as estate expenses, not personal ones -- funeral, caring for her those last few months, settling Jane's credit cards, etc. That's over $30k that I've been paying out of pocket without even thinking about it. If it turns out that I have to split the estate (more on that in a separate post), at least those expenses also get split. (On the downside, it means that I need to get a lot more careful about tracking those bills, and need to backtrack on some of the filing. But that should be a fairly quick process...)

Grammar is a harsh mistress

One of the little horrors that I'm finding myself having to deal with every day is one of the simplest: learning to use the past tense when talking about Jane. It's one of those mental adjustments that I need to make so that I can move on with my life -- but damn, it does make diarizing more painful, and I still flinch a little every time I do it...

PSA, or, Do what I say, not what we did

If there is one lesson for everyone to draw from my current situation, it is this: make a will. If you have any opinion whatsoever about what happens after your death, it's terribly important to make a will. Most people blithely assume, "Oh, my spouse will get everything", and the reality is that it's not that simple. Yes, Jane died intestate, and that's going to make the next year quite a bit more complicated for me.

My understanding is that I will inherit *most* of Jane's estate, but there's a non-trivial amount that's up for grabs legally. It's unambiguously clear that Jane intended for me to get everything, but we kept putting off actually formalizing that. We finally got a lawyer in the final weeks, and Jane dictated the instructions for a will to that effect, but by the time it was drafted it was too late: the last week she wasn't coherent enough to sign it, and in the final days before that when she *was* coherent enough, she was too emotionally fragile for me to push the point. (I was damned if I was going to upset her over money.)

The time to deal with such things is when it doesn't actually matter, when you can think about it clearly and calmly without it slapping you in the face with your own mortality. So seriously: if you have a spouse, or kids, or parents, or indeed any opinion at all about what happens, just go do it.

The difficulty to come: dating

I have to admit that, while settling Jane's affairs is top of my mind for the moment, part of me is keenly aware of an upcoming danger: I'm going to get lonely altogether too fast.

Those who know me well probably know that romance is quite remarkably important to my self-identity. Jane and I may not have been as cute in the past decade as we were for the first (I got brought up on charges at a Court of Love one year for excessive cute), but the little details of romance were still omnipresent in our lives, and we worked quite hard to keep it that way.

I've already gotten a few comments about not letting myself get pushed into it too quickly, but that kind of misses the point: I am a romantic to my core, and *not* having an SO of some sort is already starting to rankle very deeply.

The problem, of course, is going to be finding someone. I say "romance" quite deliberately: while sex is very important to my life, it's very secondary to romance. And while I fall in love fairly easily, I do have a type that isn't all that common -- smart, sexy, geeky, independent but not aggressive, beautiful in the idiosyncratic ways that I look for beauty. Above all, I fall for a lady's smile: there are some smiles that are just right, and which hook my heart quickly. And ideally, a good dancer. (You know the TV show Angel, and how Lorne could read someone's future just by hearing them sing? I read an amazing amount of personality just from dancing with a woman once -- it's sort of a specialized variant of my well-trained geekdar.)

And the thing is, there are lots of women who I find deeply crush-worthy, but almost all of them fall into two broad categories:
  • Happily married (or at least, happily attached), or

  • Much younger than me.
That's not surprising, of course -- the sorts of women I fall for tend to wind up in good marriages -- but it does leave me nervous about my prospects.

For the moment I'm indulging in a thousand distractions to keep my mind off this. And I can hope that my bad luck of the past couple of years will fade, that I can find that much-needed romance before it eats away at me too badly. But I have to say, of everything currently showing on the path ahead of me, this is the bit that most worries me...