Preparing for end of life makes it easier on those you leave

By Justine Larsen
Posted 12/8/22

Family really and truly is who you choose... and for that I will be forever grateful. It was a tough day today, as I sat in church for the first service of Advent. It is just over six months …

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Preparing for end of life makes it easier on those you leave


Family really and truly is who you choose... and for that I will be forever grateful. It was a tough day today, as I sat in church for the first service of Advent. It is just over six months since my mother’s death from stroke-related damage at the age of 81, nine months since the last full sentence I heard from her, shortly before I had neck surgery, when she said, “I just don’t know what I’m supposed to do.” I reassured her that she was taken care of and, though I would not be able to see for eight weeks while I recovered from my surgery, I would have her with me every day until I was able to see her again. None of us really know exactly what to do at the end of a life, but I know I still have to try to complete tasks that are part of living. It’s also been nine months since absolute, and ridiculous, dishonesty ended my relationship with my only surviving sibling. Forgiveness is important and she has it from me, but there will be no need for me to forget and not learn some valuable lessons from the experience. If you have a sibling who is honest, willing to be helpful, and still in your life when you’re past 50, consider yourself fortunate.

I still have a lot of work left with my mom’s trust business. I have learned some valuable skills that no amount of money can purchase. If you can, build your living trust of property with a professional that you can rely upon. My mom paid $3,000 to an attorney in her nearby community in California that botched her living trust by not deeding the property, the main tangible asset, into the trust. I had to locate another attorney to fix the problem rapidly and I did, in the midst of a 30-day escrow. It’s been a few months since the only home I lived in before leaving for college sold and I emptied it out on my own. I’m hoping to wrap up the paperwork and move on with my life because this was never intended to be a full-time job. My mom would be horrified to know the challenges I faced, alone, after her careful planning to make her life’s end easy on her daughters. Actually, she does know. She’s witnessed the behavior of those who chose not to be helpful and were dishonest. Her disappointment is not anything that I will have to live with as I move forward, because I know I have taken this role with love, sincerity, and devotion to her legacy of independence. It is a strange thing to say that a person’s underhanded behavior isn’t a surprise after all, though it may be a shock to others. No amount of nastiness, charges of malfeasance, or manipulation changes the living trust document that placed me as my mom’s personal representative. It’s not easy work, but it is a sacred responsibility that I am thankful to have been given by a woman who showed me the very essence of steely resolve.

My unsolicited advice for the end of life? Write down what is wanted. Pay some money to a reputable estate planner. The Wyoming Bar Association website lists those attorneys that provide estate planning. Do the reading and then call to interview those who will be hired for this sacred task. The answer one doesn’t want to hear is “Oh, I’ve done a living trust once before...” Utilize an estate planner as one would a licensed plumber or electrician: make sure that the mess is cleaned up, all will flow smoothly, and that the wires are plugged in to the right places. Then spend it all. Do your best to leave nothing behind to be battled over, because there will be that one person, when given everything their entire life, who will still say it wasn’t enough. They will be no help, no support, and then will claim emotional abuse and unfairness, while demanding cash and sympathy. Ask me how I know. Luckily, with an additional $10,000 paid to the clean-up attorney, a high school classmate of mine, I have a trust document that will ensure that my mother’s trust will be administered in a precise manner, with a lengthy paper trail, binder of receipts, and a doozy of a final report. No amount of whining and false accusations will change that. As difficult as the profound disappointments that have accompanied this experience have been, I have to coach myself to do as the wise Brené Brown said, “Just let it fall to the ground. You don’t have to stomp it or kick it, you’ve just got to step over it and keep going.” When this chapter closes, and it will, I will certainly keep going. 

Finally, love your friends and those who make your family. Accept their love and help. Know who you can rely upon and don’t base it on DNA. As the calendar year wraps up while the cold and darkness of December approaches, share your love and help, whether it be financial or emotional, with those most in need. As I work to clear the cobwebs of disappointment from behind my eyes, I look forward to the ties I’ve made in this community with my small and surviving family. I know I will continue to miss what was once my home in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas, but as I near what will be 30 years in Wyoming, I can relax a little. The epic road trips west in the summer on the way to Grandma Kay’s house may have come to an end, but I will manage to find new adventures somehow. There is no amount of money or heartache that will keep me from seeing the colors in the Wyoming sunsets that remind me of my mother’s penchant for wearing bright colors, the red of her hair, or the flowers in her backyard. It was a privilege to be the only one at her bedside for her last days, to tell her the only four things that matter: I’m sorry. Please forgive me. I forgive you. I love you. Beyond that, not much more is of consequence and those will be just a few of the things I will focus on as I keep moving forward.


(Justine Larsen is a Powell resident who has worked in the school system and formerly owned a coffee shop.)