Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Tuesdays with Elders - Final Wishes and Documents

Counted cross-stitch over two strands
Irish linen, DMC embroidery floss,
pearl seed beads
Another uncomfortable topic to bring up with Elders is final wishes. Fortunately for me, Dad brought this topic up himself. My dad was very proud of his military service during WWII, and wanted to be buried in a veterans' cemetery. My mother, as his spouse, would also be allowed to be buried with him. He told me he had an insurance policy through the Veteran's Administration. He said the insurance policy would take care of expenses for both of them.

At the time Dad went into the nursing home, the insurance policy had to be cashed in and used to prepay funerals. The funeral director said he would make all the arrangements with the veterans' cemetery and all he needed was Dad's honorable discharge papers.

I should have checked to see if other documentation was required because I could have saved myself some aggravation and worry. The veterans' cemetery where Dad is buried required:

1. a pre-registration application (taken care of by the funeral director)

2. military discharge papers (given to the funeral director at the time I prepaid the funerals)

3. birth certificate for both my parents. I had copies of these when I did the cross-stitched family tree for my parents' 50th wedding anniversary, but I hadn't organized the genealogy box where I put them. It took some time to go through the box to find them.

4. Driver's license or State ID. I found my mother's state ID, but Dad lost his wallet while looking for something in the crawl space in his home. His wallet fell between the space of the attic floor and the ceiling of the room below. I wasn't able to find his wallet when I was cleaning out the house, and frankly, I didn't think it was going to be a big deal since he would be in a nursing home.

5. Marriage certificate. I did not have their official state marriage certificate. I did have the certificate signed by the priest who married them.

6. Residency certificate. The funeral director contacted the town clerk in the town where the nursing home is. The town clerk wrote a letter declaring my parents have been residents of the town for two years.

7. Death certificate which the funeral director had. He also gave me official copies that will be needed to close bank accounts, social security, etc.

The first person at the veterans' cemetery that the funeral director spoke with was a real stickler for the paper work. He wanted me to go into Boston to get an official copy of my parents' marriage certificate. Somehow, he didn't seem to understand that even if I went to Boston to request the marriage certificate, I wouldn't be able to leave city hall with the record in hand. The clerk would ask me for the fee (usually $20 or so), the date my parents were married, and a self-address stamped envelope. The document would be mailed in 10 to 14 business days.

In the end, everything worked out. The town clerk gave the funeral director another contact who was more sympathetic and accepted the documentation we had.

So, when you have the final wish talk with your Elders, and find out where all the important papers are kept: insurance policies, discharge of mortgage, military papers...Ask your Elders for copies of their birth certificates, marriage certificate, driver's license or state ID.  Just in case, these documents are needed.

If birth certificates and a marriage certificate are not available, you can request these from the town or city clerk where your Elders were born and married. These are public records and anyone can request them for a fee.

When you have all the documents you may need, put them in a better location than the bottom of box used for genealogy research. Save yourself some aggravation at a time when you have enough on your plate.


  1. I think the petty officials let the ‘power’ go to their heads. To make it so difficult at a time when you’re most vulnerable is just wrong. Glad it worked out.

  2. Thanks so much for the list and for posting at a difficult time. I'll get on it! - Pam