The business of death

March 18, 2019

My extended absence from this blog has been due primarily to the loss of both my parents last year. I was designated executor of their estates, which were somewhat complicated. It was my first time discharging this type of responsibility, and I had a lot to learn.

Fortunately, I had good professional help, which eased the burden a great deal.

That burden was made far more onerous than it had to be, however, by the abysmal customer service I received from almost every business I dealt with in administering the estates and related matters. I realize that customer service usually is not a revenue producing department for most businesses, and thus is a prime target for bean-counting cost cutters. However, those economies can backfire — I have vowed never to do business with several of the companies at whose hands I received unacceptable service.

It’s hard for me to say which company I dealt with gave me the worst service — was it the insurance agent who, after promising me for weeks that the homeowners policy on my parents’ house would timely be renewed, waited until several days after it expired to tell me he had failed to renew it, and would not be able to get me new coverage for a month?

Or was it the brokerage house, with whom my parents had several fairly large accounts, that lost paperwork I sent in, only finding it after I resubmitted it at their request.

Perhaps the worst service I received was from another firm, at which held a 401(k) account for my father by virtue of a contract with his former employer. I was asked to send three documents to begin the process of transferring the account to his heirs. Two, I had and sent, with an explanation as to why I was not sending the third and a request for further instructions. The third was a paper from the court administering the estate, but how the estate would be administered depended on the value of the account, which the firm would not disclose to me. After the receiving the third letter from the firm requesting the three items requested in the original letter, I called, not believing my two prior submissions of the two documents requested and letter explaining the absence of the third could have been lost in the mail. I was told that the company received my submissions, but could not proceed in the absence of the court paper. When I asked why I wasn’t told that, but was instead repeated sent letters suggesting I had never been heard from, I was told that was the only letter they had.

While not strictly a customer service issue, the worst problem I had was procuring a medallion signature guarantee, a sort of super-notary stamp (that not only vouches for the identity of the signer, but apparently also indicates the guarantor is assuming financial responsibility for the transaction), which some firms require for the transfer of stock, bonds and mutual fund shares. Although the firm holding the shares and requiring the medallion advised that it could be procured for free from many banks and brokerages, none of the four I asked for it (I was a customer of each) would give me one. The scam was exposed when the holding company offered a medallion “waiver” in exchange for a $50 payment, on top of its exorbitant commission and fees for selling the shares.

In my next post, I will offer some advice to spare your heirs some aggravation after your passing.