What happens when a person dies alone?

A haunting New York Times article investigates this question by chronicling the story of George Bell, a 72-year-old man who died in 2014. Bell lived alone, and had few relatives and friends. His body was discovered by police after a neighbour, who’d smelled the odor of death from Bell’s apartment, called 911.

“Yet death even in such forlorn form can cause a surprising amount of activity,” writes reporter N. R. Kleinfield. The piece explains how investigators verified Bell’s identity, found his will and cobbled together his estate. It also looks at how the public administrator contacted Bell’s heirs, and how his assets were liquidated.

Read: Help single, aging clients

The article resonated with Times readers: “Some said the story had moved them to change their own lives: They resolved to strengthen their bonds to others, or, more practically, to check in with a friend or relative by phone or text message every morning,” wrote the editors. “Others thanked the public officials, investigators and others who, never having known Mr. Bell, invested time and effort in shepherding his earthly leavings to the crematorium, the auction house and his inheritors.”

Clients may appreciate this revealing look at the practicalities of death, and sharing the article may open discussions about settling estate affairs early. Read the whole piece here.

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