Being dead can create headaches for someone still among the living

Mark Twain was right on target when he wrote in June 1897, “The report of my death has been grossly exaggerated.”

That comment mirrors my feelings when one day, a couple of weeks ago, I received a thick envelope in the mail addressed to “Beneficiaries of Mary Louis (sic) Henderson” from the Topeka, Kan., headquarters of the insurance company in which I have held an annuity for more than 10 years.

Inside, there was this message: “We have been notified of the death of Mary Louis (sic) Henderson. Please accept our condolences and extend them to the family,” Along with that message were five or six pages with instructions how to submit a claim form with an original certified copy of my death certificate indicating the cause and manner of my demise,

I was pretty sure I wasn’t dead, because the aches from a long-ago ski accident had kicked in as I was getting up that day, and I figured I wouldn’t have felt the pain had I “passed on.”

First I tried to telephone the issuing company in Topeka, but gave up when the probably automated voice at the other end began to ask me for all sorts of numbers on my annuity, and I was able to find only one.

Then I headed down to the Novato, Calif., branch of the New York bank where my investment representative is headquartered.

The personal banker to whom I took my complaint first ascertained that I had a checking account in the bank, indicating that she might not be able to help me if I didn’t have one. She checked my new driver’s license for identity, while I winced at the picture on the document. Then she took the letter and my proof of annuity ownership to the investment department. She said she was puzzled about the whole affair and came back to report that my investment representative was equally puzzled but would contact the issuing company that afternoon.

I waited a couple of days, as she had instructed, then called to ask if she had any information. I could hear her shuffling some papers, and then she reported that the letter was a part of a computer glitch, which I long ago learned is corporate-speak for “somebody made a big boo-boo.”

Out of idle curiosity (and slight malice) I asked her if the Topeka insurance company would be issuing me a personal apology. She said my representative had learned that I was only one of a number of people who had received similar messages, and she really couldn’t tell me what might happen.

She was right on that point. I have yet to hear an official word from the company.

Meanwhile I had spent a couple of sleepless nights wondering whether my computer had been hacked, if some records I had filed with another investment company had been illegally entered or whether somebody within the Topeka parent company was trying to pull a fast one.

The personal banker with whom I spoke at my local bank branch had assured me that there could be no distribution of funds without a certified death certificate. But I reasoned that, with today’s technology, a death certificate could be easily forged.

I have been assured that the matter has been satisfactorily settled. However, I don’t know what to do with those misguided condolences.

Do I return them to the agency that issued them so they can be used to notify some family that is expecting them? Or do I throw them away so that they can’t be improperly mailed to another person so he or she can endure several days of anxiety?

Mary Louise Giblin Henderson is a former political reporter for The Daily Sentinel who now lives in California.


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