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Phils body was found deteriorating on the cement floor of his enclosed front porch several days after his death. A weeks worth of mail was still in the mailbox. The medical examiner ruled that his death was an accident and that it resulted from complications of a broken hip. The police accepted this, but noted that his house was in a declining neighborhood, that a window was found unlocked and that papers were strewn haphazardly about his office.

Phil was in his 80s and lived by himself as a recluse in an 80-year-old house, which he had inherited from his mother 50 years earlier. As an adult, he became a loner who resisted further contact with relatives. He had no telephone and no cable or internet service. He ultimately married, but after his wife died, his health began to fail, and he seldom went out.

A search was made, but no will was found. As a result, Phils estate was slated under state law to go to his spouse first (but she had died before him), his children second (he had none), his parents third (they had died years earlier), and then his four siblings. If those siblings had died before him (which three of them had), their children (his nephews and nieces who scarcely knew him) would divide their departed parents share.

This procedure seemed academic, since Phils assets appeared to consist only of his old ranch-style house, a few home furnishings and a pickup truck. Thinking that money might be a problem and learning that the body was still lying in cold storage, a relative offered to pay for his burial. But then, much to everyones surprise, it was discovered that money wouldnt be a problem after all-Phil had actually died a wealthy man.

Then the fun began. A retired pastor who had initially found the body gained access to the house, removed documents and items of value (using Phils pickup to haul them away), and then claimed that he was Phils legitimate beneficiary. He and his wife filed a dozen bogus claims for Phils scattered assets. Those claims had to be fought and reversed by the court-appointed estate administrator, a time-consuming, expensive and frustrating effort.

We know that most people hate to think that they might die some day, but Phils case reminds us of things that we know we should do now but often put off until later:

1. If you have no will now, make one. If you have an old one, bring it up to date. Your estate should go where you want it to go. Also, set up a medical power of attorney and provisions for minor children, particularly if you are a single or divorced parent.

2. Check on older relatives frequently; they may need help. Watch for those who might take advantage of them. Encourage them to have social contact outside their homes.

3. Write your own obituary, buy cemetery plots where you want them, and let people know how your funeral should be handled. This may sound morbid, but believe me, it will make it a lot easier for those you leave behind.

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