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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...)

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Oh, dear, I'm really sorry you have to go through all that. I'm fortunate that in PA, spouses automatically inherit, because Johan never got around to writing a will despite my occasional prodding. I've heard many horror stories - I hope your experience isn't too bad.

I was astonished to find out that debts incurred by your spouse which don't have your name on them are not your responsibility. For example, don't pay any outstanding balances on car loans or credit cards that are solely in Jane's name, as there is no requirement that you do so. Those would also come out of her estate.

Good luck.

Auuuugh, Massachusetts and your need to be Special when it comes to Estate law.

You have names, that's a good start. If you need any help, let me know- I used to track people down for a living (it was a shitty living, but there you go).

Thanks; I may take you up on that. I have only a vague notion of the possible approaches, and I'm sure there are lots that I'm not thinking about.

I gather from Joan that they are in the middle of cleaning up the Estate law, and that the rules will improve sometime this year, but that doesn't really help me. (She also said that MA is kind of pointlessly Special in this area. But at least the estate tax code seems reasonable, and doesn't look like it's going to bite me...)

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.

That sounds like me and hudebnik (his mother is five years older than my oldest sister) :-)

Jocularity aside, you have my sympathies wrt the estate issues; they can be a real pain in the neck....


You could also consider asking Martha for help. That woman is seriously scary when it comes to finding information. (This is why I'm intimidated by her) I don't know if she has experience locating people, but I think she does from trying to find distant relatives.

I've done some tracking too - part of my job is stalking rich people. I recently had to help a friend track down a place he himself used to live because he had utterly forgotten even the street name, and needed to know for something or other related to his law career. I can recommend some free sites and probably some strategies.

I'm petrified of what happens when my biological father passes away. At the time I was still in contact with them, I was down on paper as sole heir (that may have changed now), but he has a kid from each of 2 previous marriages, at least one illegitimate kid, and a my-age sibling of that kid who claims he's her biological father but he isn't. (As in he hadn't even met her mom yet, but kid is a little unstable and very insistent.) I don't know some of their last names. I haven't seen any of them since I was 10 or younger. Nor do I know where he lives, other than somewhere in Pasadena, TX.

I have a really stupid and probably grossly selfish request if you are going to be accessing all of Jane's accounts. Can you sign her account out of Google Chat next time you're in it? Every time "she" logs on and I get a popup about it, it freaks me out.

Yeah, the problem is that Google Chat is a particular hassle -- you can't just log out of it, you have to actually uninstall it, far as I can tell. So that has to be done on several separate computers as well as her Gmail account; I've done that in some places but not others. It should gradually improve, but may take a little while before it completely stops.

(What I haven't yet figured out is how to turn off Facebook Chat presence permanently -- there isn't an obvious setting to completely disable FB Chat...)

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Yeah, but I don't want to do that yet -- while I'm still settling her estate (and might yet need to be able to post as her to get information out), I want to retain the login capability, and I'm not sure that that still works after you mark the account Deceased. Eventually I'll probably want to flip the deceased flag, but not until I'm sure that I'm permanently done logging into her account.

(Indeed, that's the reason why I care about Chat right now -- I'm still needing to log into her account from time to time, and I would rather that she not show up as online when I do so.)

this. please. also... gmail abbreviates the name in your email address, so it appears as only her. it's... a little... um.

... wow, I hadn't even thought about that bit. You're right, but taking her name off the account is going to be another of those hard parts...

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... I don't even see a cousin named Martha. Hopefully that doesn't turn out to be a problem...

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Ah, that's certainly possible: my aunt Martha is local. (And occasionally posting to these threads.)

You were here legal husband (so I thought)

You should automatically inherit everything unless she specifically had it set up different in a will. OR is this some stupid Massachusetts thing people need to be aware o to make their will ironclad?

That's just plain not true -- inheritance law is different state-by-state. And despite the fact that everyone *assumes* that the spouse gets everything, that's simply not the case in MA. (It may well be the case in some states, but I don't recommend making that assumption without checking.)

It's nothing about "ironclad", it's the legal assumptions about who are defined as heirs-by-law. (Which is not the same thing as next of kin.) That's not just the spouse, at least not here...

Well that is good to know. A bad situation for you sadly, but from your legal trials comes learning for us all.

I am working now on finishing my will and living will!

I'm SO sorry you have to deal with all this foo on top of everything else. Yes, I was among the folks who assumed a spouse automatically inherits most stuff; individually owned stuff it would make sense to probate; and, of course, Mass has to be "different"...

Several recent passings have served as a wake-up call to me that I must take care of my own estate planning and will. I do not want to leave a mess for those I leave behind, and I've been procrastinating too long.

For tracking down the cousins: What software did Jane use to keep track of her genealogy records? There might be details stored for each person which aren't readily apparent in profile screens and reports. (I've been doing my own genealogy research for a while, too, and my software "hides" lots of goodies so that you need to know where to look to see them.) Also, I have a membership at Ancestry.com with access to lots of useful online records; although they are best from 1930 and earlier, there are some things I might be able to find for you. The Social Security Death Index, for instance, can give you the date and last address and spouse name if a cousin or their parent has passed away. Let me know if there's any way I can help.


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