Chapter 6
The Survivor – Executing Your Partner’s Estate

“Stupefying” was one man’s description of the unexpected death of his wife after a brief period of illness.  It is an apt term, because there is no preparation for the overwhelming grief after the death of your partner.  There are no classes, no training or experiences that can adequately prepare you.  A decade of work as a hospice volunteer did not insulate me from the grief of my wife’s passing.  It is something that must simply be endured and processed.  Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, the “death and dying” doctor, identified the five stages of grief, viz., denial, anger, bargaining, depression and, finally, acceptance.

Acceptance and adaptation: acceptance of the fact and the reality of their death … passing … moving on … return to spirit … (however you may want to characterize it), and adaptation – to the other reality … that your life is continuing … life goes on.  Moreover, your loving partner likely wants and expects you to make the most of your remaining years, to enjoy them to the fullest. 

cf: “On Death and Dying,” Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, 1969; also by EKR, “The Wheel of Life,” 1997.

Initial grief, however, is over-ridden by the countless things to do on those most difficult days of your life.  Hopefully, many of the basic decisions regarding your partner’s treatment after death were made by them, and documented, including:

Handling of remains
Regular funeral or home funeral
Funeral director or home funeral planner
- Disposition of ashes
Regular funeral, memorial service, celebration of life, vigil, wake …

Let’s expand on these:

Handling of remains: in most states you have a right to the remains of your deceased loved one or family member, without involvement of a mortuary or mortician.

Regular funeral or home funeral: A mortician/funeral director can be very helpful in handling nearly all aspects of the remains, albeit at significant cost - $15,000-20,000 or more.  Mortuaries today handle most deaths in America. 
A gradually increasing percentage of individuals and families, however, are opting for greater involvement in the process.  A new cadre of professionals, home funeral planners, are offering services that enable families to have involvement and participation in the funeral process – a family directed home funeral.  Replicating the typical American funeral in the 19th and early 20th centuries, it places the family in charge, allowing more time and engagement, honors a rite of passage, promotes healing and begins the process of closure.  If finances are a factor, it is also much less expensive.


Burial or cremation:  ideally you have discussed this subject and it’s a matter of honoring your partner’s wishes.  If either of you is a veteran, you have the option for interment at a national cemetery at no cost.

Options for disposition of ashes are nearly limitless, from keeping them at home, to having them made into jewelry, to sending them into space, etc.

Memorial service, celebration of life or …
Only your imagination and resources limit the manner of how your partner is honored.  Hopefully, this too was a topic of conversation between you, with preferences identified.

Your job will be to execute your partner’s wishes, including:

- If death is at home: doctor or coroner, funeral director or home funeral planner
- Also: family, friends, neighbors, colleagues & acquaintances
- Pensions, insurance companies, Social Security, Veterans Administration
- State (drivers license), newspapers
- Banks, creditors, associations, clubs, unions
- Clergy, church, florist, organist, pallbearers
- Lawyer or executor if other than yourself, accountant
- Obituary
- Number of death certificates: suggest 5-10 copies
- Citizen vs. Resident Alien: different options and restrictions
- You Are Entitled to your loved one’s remains

Remember: Expense is not a measure of your affection for the deceased.