sixtyandme logo
We are community supported and may earn a commission when you buy through links on our site. Learn more

The Terror of Inheriting a Mess: Part 2

By Marie Burns October 12, 2022 Managing Money

What better time to complete this topic series than October, National Estate Planning Awareness Month!?! Based on your feedback and sharing from Part 1, this blog shares stories, tips and encouragement for those who have experienced inheriting a mess.

Your Stories

One Sixty and Me reader forewarned that you often can’t count on the decedent’s spouse for any help. In her situation, after an aunt died, she was trying to help her uncle, “but he knew absolutely nothing about accounts or even where his own money was.”

This is so common. Too often, couples take responsibility for different “departments” in married life, which is normally fine – EXCEPT when it comes to finances. We need to at least be aware if not involved in the details of our money life.

You may remember from a past blog, or as I often explain in my free workshops, research indicates that couples usually fall into one of three categories when it comes to the financial aspect of our relationships:

The Driver and Passenger Couple

Only one person in the couple is aware of, makes decisions about, and takes care of all things financial (the Driver). The Passenger is often glad not to be involved or have to be bothered with that “financial stuff.”

The Joined at the Hip Couple

Both members of the couple talk about and make financial decisions together, but only one of them is the “doer” who takes care of implementing those decisions.

The Divide and Conquer Couple

Just like the Joined at the Hip couple, both members of the couple talk about and make financial decisions together but then they split the duties. So, each one is acting on implementing some of the decisions.

The Differences and Consequences

The research has also shown that the survivor of the Divide and Conquer couple adjusts the best, experiences less stress, and adapts to his/her new life better than the other two categories. Which makes sense since the survivor is often only taking on 50% more of the responsibilities vs 100% of the potentially unfamiliar duties and decisions in the other two categories.

One woman I know, Charlotte Fox, truly experienced the “terror” of inheriting a mess when her “Driver” husband passed away unexpectedly when she was just in her 50s. As the “Passenger” in the financial relationship, she recalls how she felt somewhere between a drug induced coma and a nervous breakdown.

Similar to Heather Parker, in Part 1 of this series, Charlotte reacted to her situation in a life-changing way. She used her trauma to fuel her energy into writing a 200+ page workbook And Then There Was One to help others avoid or survive what she experienced.

She wrote the book with an invitation to readers and attendees at her workshops to hold her hand as she walks you through. One reader, quoted in her book, commented, “Your husband would be so proud of you!”

Tips Moving Forward

Another reader recommended hiring help. A second set of eyes helps avoid missing things you may not know about or you may not see, especially if you are experiencing brain fog, which is very common after losing a loved one. Moving forward on steps that need to be taken, though difficult, with an accountability partner involved can feel less overwhelming.

Whether you have help or are tackling this alone, another reader found that setting up “project management steps” can be a big help in focusing on getting one thing done each day. Breaking the seemingly endless tasks down to smaller, manageable bites is, over time, truly the best way forward.

“Slowly but surely clearing it away”, “slow and steady” were the exact phrases from women who commented after Part 1 of this blog. They are so right! We are more likely to feel progress and not get discouraged when we remember it doesn’t all have to be done in one day.

Words of Encouragement

Some final words of encouragement. One reader of Charlotte’s workbook wrote her a thank you letter and shared how going through the process of getting prepared had sparked helpful discussions with her family. Charlotte’s motto today is “The time to discuss your end-of-life plans is NOW.”

One woman who replied to the Part 1 blog on the Sixty and Me Facebook group, admitted “I made the mess.” Not taking action now to organize, express wishes, put things in writing, correctly title assets, etc. can leave you or your family with a preventable “terror” experience.

So, my final encouragement is to get yourself a checklist and get started. Whether you prefer short bullet points in a book, an electronic paperless format, or a fill-in-the-blank workbook, just pick the one that you are most likely to DO.

Let’s Have a Conversation:

Too often we don’t take action on something until we have experienced a traumatic event. What prompted you to get financially organized with your estate planning? What motivation can you share with our community?

Notify of

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

How can we avoid this post-death nightmare? I wonder if creating a will from a kit would help. I wonder if the wills from kits like Suze Orman’s will stand up in court?

Sandy Charbonneau

For forty five years my husband and I had five businesses and 12 personally managed/maintained rentals, a second oceanfront home, home educated four extremely successful children and had a big gambrel barn that was stuffed to the 12’ ceilings with necessities and memoirs😳.
My husband had genetic open heart surgery six years ago. I thank God my youngest daughter married a firefighter/medic and insisted we build a new single story home-next door and sell them the family home and barn. It seemed impossible to sort that barn.
I have the greatest son-in-law ever. In 2020 they bought our home for their three young ones being home educated and said point and tell me what to do. Garbage, collections, new house!!

We did it!! We are living in our new carefree home.

July 2022 our neighbor of forty years a recluse, working, single woman was dead over a month before found. He home was stacked to the ceilings newspapers etc, pathways to rooms.
My son-in-law says this is not uncommon. 🙏💗🙏 JUST TOSS IT AND LIVE, LOVE, AND LAUGH!!

Marie Burns

Simplify is a wonderful goal, whether it is for our “stuff” or our finances. Thank you for sharing!

Donna Honer

My dad had been on Medicaid for only 3 months when he died. Even tho he had a will, it was a nightmare becasue Medicaid wanted their money back. My brother, who owned his house with my dad, almost lost it to pay them back becasue that was dad’s only asset. And our attorney wasn’t a big help. He just wanted us to pay Medicaid back and be done with it. Finally, a year later, after i told the attorney I was going to find another attorney, he did what I originally wanted and asked Medicaid to forgive the debt. Which they did! U really need to stand up for yourself, even with the people who r supposed to be on ur side!

Marie Burns

I am glad there was a happy ending in this case. Being your own advocate and speaking up is truly necessary in our world!

Bonnie Banichar

So sad…having to deal with your grief plus added grief

Bonnie Banichar

Since my brother passed at age 74 I have had to pack up his 3 bedroom home and settle his estate. He had nothing planned, luckily I helped him get a will July 7 and he passed July 23
He had his disabled adult step son living with him so we had to make funeral arrangements and get him settled in a new home…he is such a nice man
I have been sorting our papers, getting our funeral arrangements done and sorting all the extras from our home
Blessed to have gone through this and had the strength at 68 to do it all

Marie Burns

Hopefully some are reading your experience and motivated to acting on exactly the process you are doing for yourself now, BEFORE they have to experience a stressful event first. Thank you for sharing and congratulations on making the effort to protect your family from the same experience!

Jeanine Eubanks Revell

When my last parent died, I had to settle their estate. Thank Goodness it was only me and any son. It was still a nightmare and thank God me and my son got along and were on the same page. I finally had my cousin help me with the lawyers and it got settled 2 years later. After that I put everything, I had in mine and my son’s name. Checking, savings, and land. When I die, I hope all he has to do is go to the Court House, tell them and get everything in his name. Lucky, I got a son that I can trust and trust me.

Marie Burns

Thank you for telling how your nightmare story motivated you to improve your own situation for a better future. Hopefully others will take action to prevent the same story in their situation. Never too late to talk with parents about whether their plan needs updating, before a potential mess lands in your lap too.

The Author

Marie Burns, a Certified Financial Planner (CFP®), advocates for women’s financial health. She is an author of a financial checklist book series, speaker, podcast host and partners with clients to offer friendly financial advice in her independent practice Visit her at or

You Might Also Like