Take heed: Talk about and plan for death while you’re able
By Frank DeLoache
Death is not something many people feel comfortable discussing, especially their own. But Deborah Turnbull says people need to talk about it and make proper plans.
Because her sister didn’t straighten out her life insurance beneficiaries before succumbing to cancer and infections recently, Turnbull hasn’t been able to bury her.
Turnbull, who operates A Professional Hair Design salon in Salisbury, is working with family members; friends, especially members her Whist card club; and some customers to work out arrangements for her sister, Effie McLean.
Tommy Hairston, of Hairston Funeral Home, is working with her. She also has appealed for help to her church, Oak Grove Baptist in China Grove, and Masons United National & Order of the Eastern Star and J.C. Price American Legion Post 107.
But Turnbull wants her dilemma to serve as a warning to others about the importance of facing their mortality ó and helping family members left behind.
It’s a warning that professionals who deal in wills and funerals say everyone should take seriously.
John Hudson, a Salisbury attorney and member of the N.C. Bar who concentrates in the area of wills and trusts, says he frequently sees cases of people leaving out-of-date, insufficient wills.
Hudson said anyone 18 or older can benefit from having a will making his or her wishes known. Having a will drawn up is not expensive, Hudson said, and “most any lawyer in general practice” can do it.
He cautioned that people who try do-it-yourself wills “usually end up spending more money cleaning up” unintended legal tangles.
Hudson also suggested that a person revisit his or her will “whenever there are significant life changes ó marriage, children, grandchildren, retirement.”
Hudson and Hairston, the funeral home owner, also said that buying a “pre-need burial policy” through any funeral home is a good way of insuring that funeral expenses are covered and your last wishes are followed.
A pre-need burial policy “alleviates a lot of problems,” Hairston said. “It alleviates a lot of heartache, and it just comes down to good planning.
“All of us know, inevitably, we are going to die. Some don’t want to face it. But those who plan for it have achieved something of benefit for the family. It gives them peace of mind, and it alleviates problems within the family and keeps down confusion.”
Deborah Turnbull was almost sure that her sister, Effie, had made provisions for her burial ó because of all the trouble the family encountered after the death of their mother, Jessie Horne, and their other sister, Annie White.
Their mother died suddenly in February at age 80.
Turnbull was living with her mother, taking care of her full time, and the family’s finances already were stretched. A fire on Christmas Day had knocked the Horne family out of their home, forcing the family to stay in a local motel for 55 days.
Cancer and the related infections took Horne quickly, and her extended family ó she was born a Leach in Hickory Grove, S.C., grew up in China Grove and first married Henry Charles Howard ó soon learned that they didn’t have enough money to open and close the grave in a private cemetery.
So they arranged for her to be buried in the National Cemetery with her second husband, William Horne.
At the time, Turnbull remembers her sister and other family members talking about how difficult and expensive funeral arrangements could be.
“I remember her saying, ‘You don’t have to worry about me. I have plenty of insurance to bury me. There were a lot of people sitting here talking, other family members,” Turnbull said.
Ironically, McLean’s beneficiaries were not in order, and Turnbull herself did not have a life insurance policy.
Then cancer and infection took McLean on June 30 at Duke University Medical Center in Durham. McLean was living in Lillington with her boyfriend.
The family found that McLean had five different life insurance policies, and Turnbull was stunned to see that four of the policies named her late mother as the first beneficiary and a friend in Lillington as the alternate beneficiary.
Turnbull couldn’t believe her sister hadn’t taken her mother off the policy, and she was more dismayed when the friend wouldn’t agree to use the benefits for McLean’s burial in Salisbury. The friend and McLean’s boyfriend wanted to bury her in Lillington.
Turnbull is not interested in pointing fingers. Disagreements happen, but she hopes others will benefit from her family’s problem ó a sister still awaits burial more than two weeks after her death.
Hairston, owner of the funeral home working with Turnbull’s family, said people can take out pre-need burial policies several ways, including an insurance policy or with a trust fund set up through a bank. Sometimes, a person doesn’t have the resources to take care of all expenses but makes payments as he or she is able, he said.
At the least, Hairston said, a person can leave information with a funeral home about how they would like to be buried.
“It is not binding on the funeral home because it’s not a legal contract, but it can be helpful as information for the family,” he said. “Doing something is better than not doing anything at all.”
Since her sister’s death, a family member remarked to Turnbull that families only break up on two occasions: at weddings and funerals.
“You can’t imagine how much stress this puts on me,” she said. “You’ve got to make all the steps” in making funeral arrangements.
“You can’t go half way,” she said.
Turnbull’s Whist card club is sponsoring a raffle/fundraiser July 26, the last Saturday night of the month, at the Ellis Building, 1401 N. Long St., in Salisbury.