Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

As you know from previous posts, my mother recently passed away and I was appointed at the Trustee of her estate. This could have been convenient had she lived nearby, but we lived in different states, 400 miles apart with no direct flights, so I had to drive my 10-year-old pick-up truck the whole way.

I gave myself two weeks on my first visit to her house. That time consisted of cleaning the house, reviving her landscaping, planning her funeral and reception, contacting her friends, obtaining working Death Certificates, transferring ownership of a third cemetery plot, meeting with her estate attorney, meeting with her financial advisers, meeting with her gardeners, meeting with her neighbors, meeting with an antiques appraiser, meeting with a real estate agent, repairing a broken door, closing out her safe deposit boxes, closing out any unneeded services, contacting her heirs, bagging up her clothes and trying to find a new home for them, collecting as many valuables as I could carry in my truck, visiting the UPS Store multiple times, and trying to work in some time for odds and ends such as doing the laundry and marketing.

Not only is that a lot to cram into two weeks, but I was doing it while I was grieving. By far the vast majority of people offered their condolences as soon as I mentioned that my mother passed away, but there were a few rude ones who were all business and refused to even acknowledge my circumstances. Some made an effort to make these chores easier on me, while others seemed to have a system set up to make the process difficult and expensive. I decided to write a review, sharing my experiences with some of the individuals and companies I worked with.


Los Angeles County Coroner's Office: Nice people all around. I spoke to several individuals over the phone and in person while traversing their complex maze of procedure. Though I did not like the time required for forensic science to get results for both the identification and autopsy, the people who did the work were top rate. These people deal with nothing but death, so one would expect them to be indifferent to it, but they still brought together a nice blend of empathy and professionalism.

ATandT: This was one of the few phone companies who allowed me to discontinue the phone service and save myself money without having to set myself on fire and stand on my head. I had a nice, simple phone conversation that met my needs and did not have to worry any further about unwanted bills. Also, Michelle, the representative I spoke with, was very personable and told me about her own experiences when her father died. Real human beings work for ATandT.

The Gardener: Mr. C not only knows his trade well and kicks butt out there in the jungle of my mother's lot. Though my Spanish sucks and his English is touch-and-go, we were still able to work as a team in getting my mother's neglected property back with the living. This is a good guy with a whole load of ethics, and he really loved my mother.

The Real Estate Agent: Honestly, I expected the worst here, but got the best. Mr. S came in as if prepared for a job interview. He showed me examples of all the houses he's sold, all the awards he has won, and reference letters from past customers. He allowed me to ask suspicious questions, and he took it all in stride, answering truthfully in an intelligent manner. He politely waited while I actually read every word of every page of every contract I signed, even though I'm sure he had other places to be. He and I were on the exact same page regarding the pricing of the house, but what really made me happy was that he told me not to bother fixing up or changing anything about the house to make it more presentable. Since this was an estate sale based on a Trust, he was selling the house "as is", which saved me a tremendous amount of work and worry.


Verizon: I'm on the fence with Verizon because the customer support representative I spoke with was very kind and personable, and made canceling my mother's mobile phone account easy, but I don't think the right hand knows what the left hand is doing. She waived the late fee for the bill under the circumstances and told me I would receive the final prorated bill at my house in the middle of May. However, about a week later I received the final prorated bill with the late fee at my mother's address.  The late fee was only $5, so I just paid it along with the rest of the bill instead of arguing.  Then a few days later I received yet another bill at my house claiming I hadn't paid the last two bills, but this time retracting the late fee.  They claimed I owed them $60, but I did the math and discovered that they should credit me for $54 instead.  I decided to ignore the last bill and let them get caught up on their accounting.  Overall, Verizon has great customer service, but their billing processes could use an overhaul.

Bank of America: Though everyone at B of A was nice and professional, I can't put them in The Good category, because they lost the registration card to one of my parents' safe deposit boxes. Fortunately, they assumed it would be identical to the registration card of their other safe deposit box, so they made a new one and did allow me access to it. Also, while I was sorting things out with the two safe deposit boxes, they kept getting different people to help me, and each person didn't know what the last person did, so I had to wait while they did it all over again. Then, while I was attempting to hold 20-pounds of paperwork in my arms and 20-pounds of valuables in my purse, they made me stand in line to deposit a check instead of just helping me with that from the safe deposit box area. Of course, the security guard decided to take a break right then, unaware that if someone made off with my purse, the thief be a rich man. On my second visit to the bank, I needed to cash another check and verify that I was aware of all of my parent's checking and savings accounts. I also asked if they could cancel my mother's B of A debit/credit card. The man told me I could do that myself by calling the 1-800 number. I gave him a look that told him I was very disappointed in his customer service, and he immediately picked up the phone and did it himself, which was more like what I would expect from a bank that has good customer service. I think had he not made that phone call for me, B of A would have ended up in The Bad category.

Forest Lawn Cemetery: My experience with my counselor during the planning of the funeral was great, the funeral was absolutely beautiful, but there were some disappointments that put me on the fence. First off, I spent thousands of dollars on flowers for the funeral, returned less than three days following the ceremony only to find that they had already cleared out all of my mother's fresh flowers, leaving just a dried out rectangle of grass where she was buried. Those flowers should have lasted at least five days. It kind of made me wonder if they might have used the flowers a second time for someone else's funeral or if someone stole them, because they were quite magnificent. I also noticed that cemeteries move at a pace in which they think everyone has all of eternity to get their business done. You'd think they'd know better.  The lady who helped me transfer plot ownership made me wait an hour while she wrote up my paperwork. I literally fell asleep in her office. Later, when I tried to pay off the funeral, the cashier made me wait half and hour before even acknowledging me. You'd think they'd be interested in getting their $9,000. (Yes, folks, the funeral, casket and headstone alone cost about $9,000.  That doesn't include the purchase of the plot, so you had better make sure that you either set that money aside for your loved ones or purchase life insurance.  The only problem with life insurance is that it won't pay off until the company sees a Death Certificate that determines an acceptable form of death, and those often are not distributed until after the funeral.)


Charter Communications: Not surprisingly, Charter Communications tops my Bad list. I have written complaints about them previously, and even though I live in a different state from my mother, bad service is bad service wherever you go. First off, my attorney gave me a list of people and companies that require a Death Certificate in order for me to do business with them. He said everyone else should just be able to help me without these expensive papers. He did not include utilities in the list. However, Charter does require a Death Certificate if the deceased did not include their Trustee in a list of people who can make changes to their account. This meant that I would have to locate either a FAX machine or drive into their office personally, and of course, their office was a two-hour drive round trip through the congested freeways of Southern California. Not only that, but they required that I returned the cable box and remote at the time I provide the Death Certificate. I told the rep that I am booked up and do not have two-hours to spare before leaving for my home in Nevada. I asked if I could return the box and remote to my local office in Nevada since I was on my way out of state. She said they aren't supposed to mix boxes between states, but I could "try". I could try? So, if it didn't work, I'd have to not only keep paying $103 a month for a service I don't use, but I'd have to also drive back into California to return the equipment.  So, I went into my local Charter office in Nevada, and explained my situation.  The lady did not offer me condolences on my mother's death.  She just immediately began telling me that she could not help me.  I pressured her to think outside the box.  She said she wouldn't even be able to access my mother's account information, because it is in a different state.  I suggested that she call the 1-800 number for her company, inform them that she had looked at the Death Certificate, seen that I was named Trustee in the Trust, seen my my I.D., that she has the cable box and remote, and she would like to close the account through them.  Instead, she went into the back office and began arguing loudly with her supervisor over how to handle the situation.  The supervisor came out and said that people return equipment from other states all the time, and though it is inconvenient for them, they can handle it.  The supervisor then walked out the door with  her purse on her lunch break, leaving me with the woman who really, really didn't want to help me.  She had to fill out a lot of paperwork, and did eventually send me on my way, but not without a warning that this may not work.  She expected there to be problems.  Quite frankly, so did I.

Sprint: Sprint was another company that required the Death Certificate. This is going to be especially tricky because the account was in my father's name, and he died back in 2001. My mother just never changed the account over to her name. So, I'm sure there will be questions regarding the 10 year delay in canceling the service. Fortunately, they let me scan the Death Certificates of both my parents into an email, which I only could do once I returned to Nevada and had Internet access, so the process did delay my ability to cancel the service, which resulted in me having to pay more bills.  They sent me an automated email as receipt of my attempt to contact them.  In it they offered their condolences and said that it will take several days to process my request.  ATandT was able to process my request to cancel service the moment I contacted them.  In fact, I picked up the phone an hour later, and found that they had already shut off the connection.  Perhaps "Sprint" should change their name to something along the lines of "Marathon".

Note:  One request I received repeatedly while processing paperwork was that I FAX papers to people.  I found this to be odd, as I personally don't know anyone who keeps a FAX in his or her own house.  I know that a lot of computer printers double as FAXes, but there is some trickery involved in getting an existing phone line to work with a FAX machine.  Often times you have to pay for a dedicated FAX line.  My parents had an old computer, but never learned how to use it, so they disconnected the Internet years ago.  I guess businesses assume that everyone had an office job where they can access a FAX, but that was not my case.  I had to keep driving to The UPS Store and paying cash for each FAX.  Gas was priced at $4.55 a gallon in my mother's city (as high as $4.99 a gallon in other cities), so these FAX costs added up in a hurry.  I needed a scanner and Internet access in order to email documents, and snail mail delivery was touch and go since there was some confusion about whether they can keep delivering to my mother's house or whether they should keep the mail on hold or whether they should forward it.  For me, communications could only reliably take place over my mobile phone or in person.


Leah Fry said...

My goodness — not one, but 3 phone companies to deal with. Kudos to you for keeping it all together.

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

Leah - Yeah, for some ridiculous reason they used one company for their local land line, one for their long distance land line, and one for my mother's mobile phone, which she literally never used more than once to test it out when she first got it 5 years ago.

I meant to mention in my post that these were just my experiences with just one or a handful of people in each company. I'm sure there are nicer, more professional people in every company. It just depends on who you get.

Linda said...

I'm glad you posted this--I'd never thought of these things. You've been through a lot in a small amount of time. I'm very sorry you had to deal with the "Bad" during what was already a hard enough time for you. Three cheers for the Good!!

Dreaming said...

It's a shame you had to put up with extra bad stuff during this time. None of this could have been easy; from finding out that your mom had died to having to travel so far to get to her home, to dealing with all of the paperwork and bureaucracy and uncaring people.
I hope you are taking some time for you and for enjoying your home, family and horses.

fernvalley01 said...

My goodness! you certainly ran the gammut of treatment. Glad there were good people to deal with as well

DayPhoto said...

I so understand all of this...my Momma died suddenly and just a few months before her Daddy died. That was a year from hell, first my best friend/sister in the whole world died in November, then my maternal grandmother in March followed by Daddy in September, then in a few months Momma passed.

My heart goes out to you. It really does.


Once Upon an Equine said...

I'm sorry you had to deal with some difficult people during such a time of grief. I remember going through this when my father passed and it amazed me that my dad was gone, but so much of his life was left behind. It can be overwhelming, and time is still needed to grieve when all the business subsides. I wish you well through all of this NuzMuz.

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

Charter is sliding down my list, if that's at all possible. They sent me a threatening letter claiming that I never returned the equipment, and that they were going to charge me for it. I mailed my receipt for the equipment back to their headquarters. Maybe the CEO can straighten it out and tell his employees to stop hassling an orphaned lady who is in mourning.