The funeral was a final goodbye and fit for a queen as she lay in her casket in the imposing and cavernous church. The elderly woman, who was quite wealthy, wore a soft pink dress and white pearls while holding a rosary and Bible in her wrinkled hands. Her casket spray colors matched her dress, and her white hair was coiffed to liken a photo she had enjoyed in her last days.
The church choir, with organ accompaniment, sang selected hymns, and a priest and deacon celebrated the Mass, flanked by two altar boys. In all, it was a beautiful ceremony except for one sad and telling omission.
The church stood empty. There were no siblings, no children. Not even distant relatives in were in attendance, if there were any at all. She had no long-time friends either. The only people who showed up were from the church, a few representatives from her nursing home, and two members from her conservatorship, which helped disburse her estate, last will and last wishes.
Worse yet, at her gravesite were only the deacon, a funeral home representative, and the two conservators. Otherwise she would have died alone and been buried without any acknowledgment at all.
“From what little we know, our little lady was monetarily wealthy but led a very private and lonely existence,” said Barbara Melendez, the conservator who attended the ceremony. “She was a very private and very bitter person who was careful and methodical in her approach to the way she lived her life.”
The woman was a college graduate with two degrees who worked for the government and planned and paid for her funeral in advance. She knew when to sell her condo so she could move into an assisted-living center near her home.
In the last few months of her life, she allowed for a conservatorship. A volunteer came to sit and comfort her even though she remained bitter and rigid.
“No one should have to be alone in sickness, or in (ill) health, for that matter,” Melendez said. “I’m happy to work to fill the growing need for protecting at-risk adults and persons with developmental disabilities or mental illness.”
Every day I am confronted with similar situations in my law practice. I think it’s important to focus a spotlight on such services for residents in the region that live in situations similar to the one experienced by the old lady who recently died.
Financial success aside, she represents a lot of lonely people in otherwise bright and bustling Southern California, which has the fastest growing population in the country of people over age 65. And this region also has the largest population in the state of elderly residents living in poverty and/or isolation from their families.
Many of the clients have family members, but for whatever reason they choose to not be involved in the clients’ lives. Simply put, it is often up to us and conservators to fill a void for people who can’t speak up for themselves. We aren’t here to judge, but just to do the right thing.
We may focus strongly on inheritance theft, but the other side of the coin can be equally devastating.
Perhaps the greatest fear any of us have is not just being alone, or the coming of death, but that we are forgotten, both in life and afterwards. Through your conservatorship, trust, will and other instruments, you can take the steps to insure your legacy lives through the end of life…and beyond.