Welcome to Caregiver Cast, I’m Mary Elaine Petrucci your host. I have a special guest speaker today, Rachel Donnelley, who will be speaking on End of Life tasks and logistics that everyone should be considering. And before I introduce her formally, I am going to read a little bit of her biography. So after many experiences with loss, including the death of her parents at a young age, Rachel founded black dress consultants, a consulting firm that helps individuals and families manage the unavoidable tasks and logistics of after loss and end of life situations.
Rachel is also a fundraiser extraordinary having worked in higher education fundraising for Agnes Scott College, Emory University, and Georgia Institute of Technology. Rachel serves on the board of directors on glove not lost in Atlanta non-profit that provides grief tools and free photography sessions for families facing terminal diagnoses.
Welcome to Caregiver Cast Rachel, Thank you, Mary Ellaine. Thank you so much for having me. I’m delighted to be here. Will you be able to pick up my interests last Friday? So let’s, um, see if I can learn a little bit more about you. So can you tell us a little bit more about your background and how did your earlier career path relate to or inspire your current work in the space around helping families find closure after the loss of a loved one?
Right. Well, I’ve really, you know, I’m a people person. I love working with people. I love trying to solve complex problems. I love trying to be strategic. And so my experience is as a professional fundraiser and higher education, you know, allowed me to build long-standing relationships with families, um, coming up, helping to address complex problems.
They’re working collaboratively to manage and allocate funds in that particularly in resource. Constrained environments. Um, so having built a lot of those skills have helped me not only personally, to administer, you know, as states, um, but helping families and individuals, uh, manage a lot of as unavoidable logistics that come with what I like to call the business of death.
Um, and also helping families. Um, reach their philanthropic goals and build a film, Profit legacy also translates a lot into them creating, um, the legacy that they want to pass on to their families after they’re gone. So addressing all of those important little, um, parts of their legacy to create, um, that everlasting, those memories and traditions to pass on to their wealth.
That is a lot. Thank you very much for sharing that. Um, more about your background. I know that, um, just working with my family and knowing some of those logistics, that one has to plan, it’s really nice that you can. Built these legacies, like you say, for, um, their philanthropic organizations or just for their family.
So I think that’s wonderful. Right? Exactly. So what was the motivation behind the creation of black dress consultants? So I can just say it by quoting that old saying “Necessity is the mother of invention”. Um, I lost my father when I was in high school and then, my father was a physician. So I was used to accompanying him on home visits or patients being around, being around, um, in a sick patient.
I was very comfortable with that environment, um, in those situations, but then my mom got sick and passed away. Um, after I had just gotten married and had two young children, and I had to take over Karen from her brother and my uncle who lives in a different state to manage his care, all his estate plans.
So being thrown into that environment, And those situations of probating, an estate settling an estate selling properties and furnishing, um, and you know, a person the entire lie, you know, both of my parents, all of their belongings that my mother had hung on to after he passed away was very daunting.
And you’re really a lot of people in the business of death, managing those logistics. You’re left to a lot of your own devices to have. Recreate the wheel and make a lot of decisions that you have no idea how to make, um, that are a lot are very, um, can be very hard. And you’re in this grief-stricken. Uh, state BrainPOP and you’re tired and overwhelmed.
And so I think it’s very unfair to expect family members and surviving loved ones to have to take on that. The sheer volume of decisions, tasks, logistics, and paperwork. And because we don’t talk about this a lot, we don’t talk about the logistics of death and dying people wouldn’t really know what to do. So it’s like I said, you have to recreate that wheel every time.
So I wanted to create a service based on my own experiences to help fill in these gaps. I saw firsthand how trying to manage the care of a surviving loved one, find two unfurnished, and male off death certificates may administer a probated estate. And yes, I had great Attorneys and Accountants and Financial Advisors that there’s all that in-between, that’s left to someone and to, to have to juggle that.
Well, having your own family, your own household full-time job. It’s a lot. And I think that families and surviving loved ones deserve the space to grieve. They deserve to have someone there to help fill in those gaps. So I created the service that I would have. Thank you very much. And I wish I had known you earlier.
You could have helped out with some of my situations. I know it’s very, then you understand you did it, but if you haven’t, you know, it’s very hard, uh, to have to realize and, and know how to manage these tasks. Most definitely. Yes. I know selling off assets and. Dealing with, you know, it’s state sales and arranging funerals.
And all of that is, it is very daunting. I agree. So you, your company Black Dress Consultants, offer consulting services both before and after a loss. Can you explain the difference between the two? Yeah, absolutely. Um, so we can provide, you can be engaged to help family or client, both, both sides or in both buckets.
As I like to say Endless Life. So helping a family, whether they are just getting started with their estate plans and end-of-life wishes, or to help complement and enhance the work that they’re already doing. Say with their estate planning Attorney or a Financial Advisor, and then helping address some of those blind spots that I have seen in working with clients and personally that I want to make help a plan button up and get organized.
So from anything, from making sure that their funeral preferences and wishes are documented and written down a chair who family, helping families get their digital estate organized, which is a huge part, um, of a state planning. And it’s getting a bigger and bigger part of it. It’s our online presence and lives continue to flow more seamlessly from paper to online.
So having people get that organized is important to them as they can talk about that legacy, meaning what are those traditions? Those, the physical photos, the stories that they want to make sure are preserved and shared with loved ones. So having addressed those blind spots and they supercharge their end-of-life estate plans.
And then in the after loss, I sort of put it in the bucket of, you know, when you look at a job description, it says other duties as assigned. That’s basically what I try to help family members address are those other duties as assigned. That fall outside of the realm of maybe what the funeral director or the estate planning attorney or the financial advisor is doing, helping them to complete the mail-off paperwork like sending the death certificates, closing accounts, managing an estate sale, um, getting, um, physical property appraised and sold or donated.
Um, so just, it can be very garden variety just based on the circumstances, the situation over what’s happening with the family. We do try to meet that client where they are coming up with a customized roadmap, think of us as GPS for after loss. And we’re going to come up with that personalized roadmap to navigate you in that situation.
That sounds fantastic. To have somebody else take care of all of those extra tasks that, yeah, we’d rather, we don’t mind doing, but you can’t really grieve and do it at the same time so there may be things that you can take care of, or, and then there are other things you’re like, I just can’t, I don’t have time to deal with it, especially if we have a family.
But if they live out of state, they physically cannot manage logistics, buttoning up and settling in the state. We can help fill in and outsource those duties so we can be as involved as the family wants, um, either supplementing or really being the outsourced professionals to come in and manage those tasks and face.
I liked the way you said it, um, you customize your plan for all families, cause I’m sure everyone has different wishes and what kind of legacy they want to leave. So we try to meet them where they are. You said that there were some blind spots at the end-of-life planning.
Can you give us an idea of what some of those are? I talked about a couple of them to discuss how do you want your family to remember you? How do you want to be brave, already want your family to raise you. That can be a big point of contention for families, I’ve seen adult children fight over the argument and not be able to.
Um, to an agreement on what to do with their father after he’s passed away, you know, oh, well dad told me he wanted to be cremated. I never heard him say that the children are fighting. In some states, you have to have the surviving loved ones have to sign off and they have come to an agreement on what’s going to happen to that body.
Make sure it fulfills your wishes and share with your loved one about your aging preferences. What does aging grace really or aging place mean to you and writing that down and sharing it? Have you looked into long-term care insurance? What is your Medicaid or Medicare?
Consider if you want to go ahead and start downsizing and decluttering, and move into the agent life community to save your family hassle down the road. The digital estate is a huge part of it. Make end-of-life planning very intentional.
No writing down those stories, those recipes, those traditions, maybe taking, making it a tradition Thanksgiving to sit down and go through family photos and writing down who all those people are on those photos. So that, that historical knowledge doesn’t get lost. Are you being intentional about where are the photos may be online?
How do you want to make copies for all your children’s photos being intentional and strategic about preserving and storing those items so that they’re not lost after a loved one passes away? I know that when I cleaned out my grandmother’s house which had been in my family for 120 years.
I just went through thousands of photos where I didn’t know who those people were. That whole historical knowledge is gone because I don’t have anybody to ask. So I want to make sure that things like that are preserved for my family and I can help you achieve that. I think that’s wonderful that you can take all of that person’s life and a legacy.
It’s important that photos, possibly becoming digital, are just for the family so that they know their history and who the people are that they were there. I can’t stress enough that the digital state is part of our lives online or in the cloud.
Make sure there are plans ahead of time so that your family knows how to unlock her phone or access your computer to get your contact list or, um, access what bills you’ve been paying online. That’s very important to make sure that there’s no identity theft protection from the bank, subscriptions, or ongoing bills that don’t drain money from the state.
Changing names as needed. Now I’m a notary, so I can sit down with them and go through all the paperwork that needs to be notarized and get that mailed off. Um, a lot of times just figuring out what to do with all that stuff. We have more stuff than we ever have.
I come up with a customized solution for items and put them in different grouping them to figure out and make a plan of what to do with them.
Okay. We really need to figure out what to do with all of your old cell phones that have been sitting in a drawer we need to figure out. What to do with all of your husband’s medications, you can’t, they shouldn’t just sit in your house. Right. Um, so gently, you know, but very carefully with kid gloves, helping that family come up with solutions and being that accountability partner for them.
That’s fantastic. Um, so let’s. We know that you’re not a financial planner or an attorney. So how do you really differentiate yourself between those two, um, career paths? Yeah, so my goal is to compliment and enhance the work that’s being done by these other professionals. I don’t want to duplicate any work that’s already been done.
You know, your estate planning attorney has already come up with a plan to help you think through your remembrance of funeral wishes. I want to help guide them and that advice, especially if you’re in probate, I want to help you fulfill your duties as the executive under the guidance of an attorney.
And so I want that, that was the thing that was one hard thing for me. Is it navigating having probate and a state and three different, uh, states? Oh my goodness. Finding, um, all of those professionals, um, sourcing all of them and finding the people that you could trust and that you knew, or you weren’t going to do a good job.
I think where we can really add a lot of value is helping sources, and vendors as professionals to help provide that continuum of care. Otherwise, it can be very destroyed and you’re like, oh gosh, you’ve got to try to find an estate sale company and Poughkeepsie or, a probate attorney in Burbank. It can be a very daunting task.
So trying to be that one stop to help sources, vendors, and professionals. We in healthcare say that there’s this continuum of care.
There may be some surprises in that journey going to be surprises or situations where the death tragically happened.
If you just weren’t able to get things done in time, I can also add a lot of value in helping navigate those tasks.
I find professionals to do like real estate value for the house so I use my resources to take care of selling it.
Um, enjoys being able to help problem solve for those unexpected things that come up that you weren’t expecting. I was working with a client and the executor lived out of state that you could help, um, you know, um, decluttering, um, emptying a house to get it ready for sale. Family had Arctic to come in and gone through all the belongings and taken everything.
Either that they wanted or a value special to the family. And I was discharged with having the junk removal company come in and take everything. So we’re really at the tail end of this process and getting it ready for sale. And, you know, I was still finding several things in the house, like copies of, um, the deceased passport or checking checkbooks, and that I was gathering up to make sure that those would be.
Shredded and not just thrown into a dump. And as, as the junk removal company was furiously, just throwing things in the truck. I noticed three big boxes that say. Um, cremated human remains. And, um, the family had not know that they’re the humane, the cremated remains of their family members were still with this loved one.
So there were literally about to be thrown into the trunk to be thrown in the Dungeness. So I quickly grabbed all three of them and, you know, called the family. I think you want that you said, and they said, oh my gosh. Yes, absolutely. So went down. Good fun fact to know FedEx and ups will not, will not mail them.
You have to go to the U S P S to do that. So the lady at the task was quite interested to know why I had three. Sets if you made it cremated remains. And I did not have the answer to that, but now that off to the family, they were very appreciative that those didn’t get thrown away. Oh my goodness. I can’t imagine.
Yeah. So that was, that made me feel good that I was able to return those to the family. Most definitely. I hope then that they were able to put those remains in a cemetery. Yeah. Were important to them. Exactly. Wow. So how do people get in touch with you Rachel? How did they hear about you and your services? You know, the majority of my clients do come from one-on-one referrals.
What I think is super important, you know, the I’m so young, I want to, I want you to feel comfortable with working for me. And, and I think that one-on-one referral to my services is very, very valuable tool, especially in navigating a situation and end of life after loss. It’s a very vulnerable time. It’s a hard time.
Um, so I want people who feel comfortable passing along the name. Um, so I am, um, on Instagram, I get a lot of connections there. Facebook, I have a weekly Instagram lives. Um, I am of course, go to my website, black consultants.com and fill out, um, customer inquiry form that will come to me. I offer a 30 minute free consultation, um, to find out, you know, what’s going on?
What are the three things? That I can take away from you. If you had a magic. If I had a magic wand, what’s keeping you up at night and then figuring out if I’m the best, best fit to help navigate those. Um, you know, you can reach out to me on the social tones, on my website, email me Rachel@Blackdressconsultant.com, um, and you know, I’m happy to speak with, with anybody and everybody.
I can provide virtual consulting, um, to Lala. I have clients that are all over the U S ranging from California to Boston, to Florida. Um, so a lot of things as we’ve realized in the past year and a half can be done virtually. Uh, so we’ve adapted our consulting services. And the same manner to help work with the clients via zoom phone, text, all the things.
So that’s, you know, Learn a little bit more about me and reach out and just have a conversation. Thank you for that free 30 minute consultation. That’s fabulous. I know that there are people in the audience who would really need your services at this time. The other thing is that you also have another.
Special gift for our listeners. Could you explain that? I do. And if you sign up for our email list, we’ll send you a free after loss guide. It’s a very comprehensive after-loss guide that has not only a checklist, but lots of resources. Um, in terms of brief support and how to set up, you know, an online Memorial, um, virtual Memorial planning, but I also have, um, running a great promotion right now where we offer our lieu of flowers package.
This is services that can be gifted to another one in need. Um, if they’ve just lost a loved one or. Down the road and you want to do more than send another castle roll or a ham. Um, and you want to provide practical guidance. You can purchase a package is $300. And that is right now, three hours of our services where it’s usual, usually too.
So you buy two hours, give one hour for free. Nice. That can be gifted to anyone. That’s where we get a lot of our clients who are all over the U S is a loved one, will purchase it and gift it to someone across, across the country because they can’t be there to provide that in-person support study. If you want to, um, purchase that, you can send me a DM on Instagram or Facebook, or send me an email, go to our website.
We can provide you with a gift card or gift certificate to send to your loved one or family members. Thank you so much for providing all of those services to the listeners on Caregiver Cast.
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