My short bio: I'm 33, live and work in a city in the UK where I organise funerals for people who have passed away in the area without any known family. I conduct searches of their property to find a will/funeral plan/details or family or friends/financial details/items of sentimental value.

I'll be coming back to this thread over the next day or so, or as long as people are interested, so feel free to keep the questions coming.

My Proof: I do not wish to compromise the right to privacy of any of the people involved in these cases. I have submitted proof confidentially to the mods of this forum.

Comments: 382 • Responses: 70  • Date: 

SliceOfBrain151 karma

How'd you get this job?

rpg_wodehouse195 karma

I fell into it by chance, happened to get a job as a temp in the office where the work is done, and the person who did it before me was shortly due to retire. I applied for the job when he left and have been doing it ever since (5 years).

burtonbandit57 karma

Does the job pay well? Did you need any sort of degree to get the job?

rpg_wodehouse115 karma

Pay is about average, £26k per year. Certainly nothing special. And I have a degree, but I didn't need it to get the job. In some places you probably need a degree in some sort of environmental health studies, but not where I work.

adiapau115 karma

What was the most heartwarming thing you've found about a stranger?

Anything that you felt they should have been recognized for?

rpg_wodehouse362 karma

I'll have to think about that first question, but in terms of things people should be recognised for, there was one case where someone has written an entire novel. It was typed on a typewriter, and the manuscript was bound together, but it didn't look like it had even been read by anyone. It was several hundred pages long, and when I glanced at different parts it was a proper story with punctuation, grammar, sentences, not just the ravings of a madman. I kept it for ages but it had to be destroyed in the end, there was nothing anyone could do with it.

I had another case where someone had redecorated their home to look like they were in the jungle. He had painted parrots and other animals on the walls, and the quality of the painting was so good, they looked real. I was probably the first other person to see the pictures other than the man who painted them. It seemed like his talent should have been more public.

DemyeliNate88 karma

How were you able to keep the novel and why did it have to be destroyed if you were able to keep it?

rpg_wodehouse187 karma

I kept it in the safe at work, along with huge amounts of other belongings that come into my possession. Because of the limited space, we have to destroy items which aren't collected after 12 months. Some things are left for longer because I can't bring myself to destroy them, but eventually it has to happen.

renorosales32 karma

I'm guessing you can't bring some stuff home?

Trumpstered20 karma

Surely there would be some way legally to get the book published... Or maybe not. IANAL. If stuff eventually goes to charity then maybe the charity could have sold it to a publisher. Maybe the book sucked but even 10 pounds would have been worth giving it a look.

rpg_wodehouse76 karma

It would have been very complicated from a legal point of view. Who owns the book, for a start? Not us, and there aren't any family. Plus I might have had to take it to several publishers, and my job is to organise funerals, not act as a literary agent. It sucks, I know, but the reality is that nobody would have wanted that book, or it would have taken far more time than I could offer to find someone who might have wanted it.

As I've said elsewhere, it's the worst part of my job. I've destroyed many other things that were immeasurably personal and completely irreplaceable, it's a reality of the job.

AzureMagelet5 karma

Why can't you guys donate it to charity?

rpg_wodehouse82 karma

Charities don't want unpublished manuscripts from unknown authors. Hard fact of life there.

newsheriffntown57 karma

This hits home with me and I'm sure someone like yourself will be doing this for me. I no longer have any family who cares about me even though I have two grown kids and a grandson. I have sisters too but they haven't contacted me in over eight years. I live alone with my old dog and don't have any friends. I'm 62.

I am an artist and my house is full of my work. Paintings, carvings, other types of artwork on shelves and walls. When I die the only person who might notice will be the mail carrier because my mail will begin to pile up in the box. My neighbors mind their own business so they won't notice that I'm dead. One of them might think something is wrong when summer comes and my grass is super high.

When the authorities finally do enter my house they will of course see my artwork then my painting studio then they will discover the furniture I made myself. I sometimes wonder what will become of my things after I'm gone. I have a Will but I am going to change it. I waited to see if my children wanted a relationship with me but it's clear that they don't. There is no one to leave my property to and my house is paid for as is my vehicle.

What happens to property like mine when there isn't a next of kin?

bse5012 karma

what kind of artist are you?
Who cares about what your stuff will do when you're gone. I want to admire it now.

newsheriffntown6 karma

I paint, I have done carvings, made jewelry and some furniture. I mostly paint.

midiga6 karma

I'm a lonely painter too. I'd love to see your work.

newsheriffntown17 karma

I don't have a website because I don't sell any of my work. Here is a sample. I saw a painting online a few weeks ago that I like and did my own rendition of it. I don't like to copy anyone's art exactly and couldn't do it if I tried. I don't stick to one theme. I have three paintings of castles, several of Native American Kachinas, one of what I think Leonardo Da Vinci looked like when he was in his late 40's. I currently have three paintings I'm working on. I mostly paint with oils so as you know, it takes time for the paint to dry enough to continue painting on them. Two paintings are of Vincent Van Gogh and the other one is a portrait of a friend of mine. I would like to see your paintings too.

rpg_wodehouse3 karma

What a beautiful picture, romantic and yet melancholy, thank you for sharing.

rpg_wodehouse2 karma

I saw your message earlier and came back to respond to it, but it looks like the nice people of Reddit have already given you as good as a response I could have. In brief, get a will. And please leave all your artwork to someone or somewhere that will find a use for it. Community centres, galleries, hospices, there are many places that I'm sure would accept what you have produced.

You could also consider making an arrangement with a neighbour if you are on reasonable terms with them, that you will always leave one downstairs light on at night, and turn it off during the day. Then they will know something is wrong if that pattern changes.

Vaderic102 karma

•What was the saddest thing you've learned about someone?

•What was the time you most felt like a detective (which, thinking about it, you kind of are) while trying to do your work?

•What was the most mysterious person you've "seen" (given you don't see them, you see their things and whatnots) in your job?

Edit: Also, my curiosity got the best of me. Forgot to thank you for doing this amazing AMA. Cheers mate

rpg_wodehouse205 karma

There are so many sad stories, I can't say any one of them is the saddest, but one that occurs to me now is from my very first case. It was a man in his 50s/60s IIRC, lived in complete squalor and had been dead for a week or two before he was found (the neighbours noticed a smell...). We knew that he had a mother from a friend of the deceased, but they were estranged, and she was probably dead anyway. When I visit a property I will always look through their unopened mail, and on this occasion I found an unopened letter from the man's mum. It was several pages long and she wrote about her sadness that they had lost touch, that she was sorry for everything that had gone one, that all she wanted to do was reunite with her son before she died. She had got his address though someone she knew who still lived in the area, I believe. She said she thought of him every day. And that letter was on the doormat, unopened, the man had died before being able to open it. That was heartbreaking. And as it was my first case I was completely unsure of this was something I could do. And then you get used to it, I guess.

The 'detective' element of the work is the most fun, although it usually only extends to searching through address books/mobile phones, putting out ads in newspapers, or speaking to neighbours/friends of the deceased. I've already mentioned the case with the school photo in another thread, that was pretty satisfying. There was another case there we knew there were family abroad, but attempts by both the UK police and the police in the country the family were believed to be located were unsuccessful. I eventually came into contact with lots of paperwork the deceased had, and on the back of a scrap of paper, in box full of other papers I found an email address. I sent an email and it turned out to be for the brother of the deceased. He wasn't able to travel for the funeral but a few months later he came to England to collect the ashes and returned them to the native home of the deceased. Another case of the best possible outcome, given the circumstances.

And the most mysterious has to be the man that lived under his brother's assumed identity. I've covered that in a different post, so I won't repeat it here, but that was a case that probably only come up once in two decades.

Chamber5314 karma

Why not reach out to the mother? I'm sure the mother left a means of communication being that she hoped that the son would've read it and reached out himself...

rpg_wodehouse53 karma

I did. She was very upset of course, but was too frail to attend the funeral. That was the first time I had to inform someone of a death over the phone, not an easy job.

DontAlwaysButWhenIDo69 karma

When you discover a secret that the deceased meant to keep hidden, do you share that knowledge with anyone? Or do you assist in helping that secret do with them?

rpg_wodehouse221 karma

It will depend on the circumstances. If telling someone will help locate family then I will tell people, but generally speaking you have to be very discreet. I've encountered quite a few men who were presumably gay based on their porn collections, but whose friends thought were straight. No point in outing them after death if that wasn't what they wanted.

StepUpYourPuppyGame58 karma

Thank you for doing this!

What is the item/items you were most tempted to take home yourself? Is there any wiggle room for objects that would just otherwise get destroyed?

rpg_wodehouse124 karma

I think the only things that I've thought I would like have been nice pieces of furniture. Like I might need a new sofa or see a really nice antique desk and know that it would fit perfectly in my house, but there is no way I could take them even if I were inclined to do so (always two people present, everything is accounted for). These items typically get given to charity anyway, so saleable items don't get destroyed and go to a good cause, which is nice. The only other things I've seen have been books that I'd like, but it still wouldn't be cool taking them - I need to go into properties thinking about my role, rather than doing a mental shopping list.

CupricWolf38 karma

Have yo ever thought about buying an item once it's donated to a charity?

rpg_wodehouse52 karma

No, it would be a conflict of interests at best, and completely unethical at worst. Best I don't get involved, even it it really would have been perfect for my front room!

WookieVillage51 karma

Has this job had any impact on your own hobbies and habits? Are you careful about what you leave lying round at home? Do you purposely not keep things in the house because you wouldn't want somebody like you to see it?

rpg_wodehouse101 karma

I think it has probably made me a more serious person. I'm not depressed by it, but seeing the reality of how people live (for example, I see a lot of houses of alcoholics, where they have been shitting in buckets and vomiting on the floor) can be sobering - in more ways than one actually, I think I drink less now as well. As for stuff lying around, I don't think I have anything that I wouldn't want people to see, and I have't got around to actually making a will yet (I'm only 33, so hopefully won't need one for a while). Although that is silly, everyone should make a will, if for no other reason than it makes my life much easier when I find one!

boxsterguy58 karma

I have't got around to actually making a will yet (I'm only 33, so hopefully won't need one for a while

My wife passed away a month and a half after her 35th birthday. You never know when you might get hit by a bus or get diagnosed with cancer or have a stroke or whatever. Nobody likes to do it, but everybody should take the time to do at least a little bit of estate planning.

rpg_wodehouse46 karma

I'm sorry for your loss. Losing anyone you love is hard, but at that age, I simply cannot imagine. I will take your advice.

more_than_words41 karma

What is the strangest thing you've found in someone's home?

rpg_wodehouse134 karma

One case was for a transgender person, born male, living as a female (I don't believe they had had the operation, so I guess that makes them a transvestite, apologies if my terminology is wrong). They used to push two dolls around in a double pram (she called them 'the twins') in the pram and one of the dolls was in the flat when I visited it. I never found out about the other doll, I think it went into hospital with her. Anyway, as well as the doll and the pram were lots of maternity magazines, which was kinda sad. The floor was covered in lots of dildos (I would guess about 30-40), plus quite a few Barbies, all without their clothes on. There was also lots of TVs which had been dismantled like she was going to fix them or was in the process of doing so. And the walls were covered in pictures of Cheryl Cole. From what I could gather their entire diet was packets of crisps.

LazerFX40 karma

If you're going into a house, and searching it reveals that something illegal was done there, do you have to report it to the authorities? Have you ever come across such a thing? I'm not sure what would count - I'm sort of imagining serial killers or something, but I guess it's likely to be much more mundane...

rpg_wodehouse84 karma

Probably not. I've only ever found drugs or suspicious amounts of cash, but I doubt the police would have any interest once the culprit has died, even if they could prove anything. If I found evidence of a very serious crime (eg murder) then I would certainly involve the police, but it hasn't happened yet.

The times when I have reported things to the police have been when the deceased has been a victim of crime. For example, I've had a few cases where there is evidence that financial abuse has been taking place, and large amounts of money have come out of an account after the account holder has died. Then I'm straight onto the police about that - there are awful people out there that will happily steal thousands from mentally or physically ill people.

homoanthropologus35 karma

Fascinating! Because it's a job, I assume there's some sort of report card or performance review. Who does your reviewing? What are the criteria for a "satisfactory funeral"?

rpg_wodehouse81 karma

Not really. I'm left to my own devices to an extent, and since I've been doing the job I've reworked how it's all done, so now I'm the only person who knows how to do it. My boss is happy for me to get on with things, although I will bounce things off her from time to time if it's a complicated or unusual case.

cleo_not_chloe31 karma

How much time after someone has died do you go to their home? Do you see the body?

Also, have you ever planned a funeral for a murder victim? Or any other death that was being investigated? If so, did you still have the funeral, and were you involved with the case at all?

rpg_wodehouse75 karma

It depends on the case, sometimes I will go into the home a few days, other times it can be a couple of months. Often just getting access is a pain - the police or the hospital can be very good at losing keys, so sometimes you have to arrange a locksmith to break in for you. I never see the body though, that's always gone by the time I arrive. I'm a bit sqeamish really, I wouldn't like to see the body.

And I've dealt with one murder victim. We still had the funeral, but it didn't take place until about 8 months after the death as investigations were ongoing and the coroner weren't ready to release the body. The worst part about it was that the Mum came over from the country where the victim was from, and she wanted to see the body. She thought he would still look the same, but he'd had an autopsy and then put into the freezer, and even then that only slows the rate of decomposition. But she was adamant that she wanted to see her son in case it wasn't really him. In the end the brother of the deceased went to see the body on her behalf, and from what I heard was pretty shook up by the experience.

Wonky_dialup9 karma

Is it legally allowed for you to learn how to break locks or pick locks yourself?

rpg_wodehouse20 karma

No idea, it's not something I've looked into. We have specialised carpenters who will break into a property for us then replace the locks, those guys are great for breaking into places. They have a few ingenious tricks (which I won't repeat here for obvious reasons) and can sometimes get into a locked property in a matter of seconds. Other times they have to drill the locks out and for newer doors it can take quite a while.

TheNonDuality31 karma

What are some of the illegal things you've found?

rpg_wodehouse73 karma

Nothing too exciting. Drugs a few times, and there was one person who had a lot of knives hidden in their wardrobe. It wasn't clear what they were for, but I think they were decorative rather than anything else. Weird that they were hidden away though.

I've found large amounts of cash before, the most being £15,000 in a carrier bag, made up entirely of £20 notes. Pretty sure that hadn't come from a legit source...

BaronessMononoke9 karma

What do you do with the cash that you find?

mrs-mojo-risin31 karma

Not OP but if the person had a Will, it should form part of their estate and be distributed according to the Will. If there is no Will found, the estate should be distributed according to the intestate laws of where the deceased was living, which usually goes to closest family members first (another reason to look for family members of the deceased).

rpg_wodehouse29 karma

Couldn't have said it better.

privatenuisance29 karma

You ever have a funeral where no one was able to show up? Or any crazy/ridiculous funeral stories

rpg_wodehouse104 karma

Nobody in attendance isn't that uncommon, although most funerals there is someone who knows the deceased thankfully. But where there is no-one, there is still a service held with as much information as I can provide used (for example, if there are pictures of racing cars all over the walls then that will get mentioned, or if they loved Barry Manilow we would play some of his music during the service). The funeral director and one of our attendants, or sometimes myself, will attend in funerals where there are no friends able to attend, so nobody ever goes completely alone, but there might only be strangers to the deceased there.

As for crazy stories, there have been lots of times where the friends that come are addicts like the deceased. The funerals are always early in the morning, but that doesn't stop them drinking/smoking/shooting up ahead of the service. One of the people we use to conduct the services is an ex-policeman and he has had to stop people from shooting up right in the middle of a service before. Oh, and fights too, you get fights sometimes with those types of funeral.

Plonkydonker4 karma

I've heard there are groups that go to similar types of funerals where otherwise there would be nobody. You should consider reaching out on social media to find such people in your area.

rpg_wodehouse51 karma

It has happened before for people in the military. On a few occasions, where I know someone has been in the forces (usually dating back to WWII era) I will contact the local Royal Legion branch and they will often send someone. Often they send an old chap with his war medals on, very touching to see something like that.

Why_Did_It_Stop28 karma

So, You've only been doing this for 5 years. What kind of effect has it had on you so far? How much did you change, if at all ? And do you think you'll change in the future?

rpg_wodehouse35 karma

I think it makes you a more serious person, but then maybe that just comes with age anyway. Whilst it is rewarding there is also the sense that it is grinding on some core part of you, like it wouldn't healthy to do it forever. For example, it is good to destigmatise death, but it is probably not a good sign when you become blase about death, or when the death of a loved one has a lessened impact because of how much you deal with it all the time. I'm not at that point, but I know people who are, and I'd like to get out before that happens. As for my future, outside of the funeral industry I expect, but I don't know what.

imalittlefrenchpress26 karma

Have you ever been involved with a funeral for someone who had been a hoarder?

rpg_wodehouse61 karma

Many times. It's a common thing amongst these types of funerals. You get normal hoarders, who keep everything they come into contact with, and you also get niche horders who will keep lots of the same things. I had one case and the person had hundreds of jars of jam, hundreds of cartons of custard, and hundreds of boxes of cakes. With the cake boxes he had eaten the cakes and then stuffed the empty boxes with crete paper or something similar, re-sealed them, and then stacked them up all around his house.

There was another hoarder, probably the worst I've seen, whose house was so full of junk, there was just a narrow strip of carpet (about one foot width wide) snaking round the house where she must have walked. There was nowhere to sit or sleep that I could see, and god only knows how she managed to prepare food.

super_medium_sized22 karma

Since no one has asked yet, what exactly do you do with the information you discover? Like, pass it on to a funeral administrator or something so that they can deliver a more personalized eulogy? How do you determine which type of service to hold (religiously speaking)?

rpg_wodehouse66 karma

The big thing is dignity and respect, regardless of whether the deceased had family or not. Even if nobody attends, a service is always held, with either a religious minister or non-religious celebrant depending on what we discover about the deceased. I will always be looking out for details that can be used in the service - so for example, if the person has pictures of racing cars on their walls, or if they have a collection of Barry Manilow albums, or have a passage in the bible marked. Any and all of it can be used. Thankfully there are relatively few services where there is nobody there, usually there will be a neighbour or two if nothing else. Given the chance, us humans are an amazing compassionate lot.

Mosovono21 karma

It's strange to say but I've sometimes thought how my life would turn out if suddenly I had no family.

Have you noticed any trends of behavior through your investigation of these individuals?

rpg_wodehouse72 karma

There is a definite trend towards people in these situations being male (about 70% of my cases are for men), single (vast majority of cases) and in their 60s (almost 50%). So if you are a single man aged between 60-70 you should think about writing a will if you haven't already. There is also a lot of alcoholism amongst these cases, or other kinds of addiction. I do believe thought that being a single man is the biggest precursor, sometimes it seems like they've just given up on life. In terms of behaviours, I see a lot of habitual behaviour (or at least evidence of it), like eating the same things each week, having the same daily routines. Which I think is normal, but I suspect a bit of variation is good for a person, as some of my cases seem to get into a rut which they can't escape from.

itisadilemna102 karma

You just described my old man. He lived across the country so we had an arrangement to talk every Sunday. When he didn't answer by Monday I called the police. He'd been dead for days by that point.

One of the kindest things he ever did for me was prepare a will and organize his own funeral. Everything was taken care of by the time I got to his house.

Unfortunately, he had been so ill in his last days that his house was in the condition you've mentioned before - shit in plastic bags, food out, unopened mail, vomit and flies everywhere. And of course the body excretes stuff. Damn.

But please know, the way people die isn't necessarily how they live. He was a clean, intelligent, vibrant soul.

Thank you for what you do. I'm going to see what kind of services my town has for people who are alone in death. Maybe I can help too.

rpg_wodehouse108 karma

Thank you for your story. For what it's worth, I never ever judge the people I deal with. I'm always aware that people lives don't happen in a vacuum and often it is circumstances beyond their control that place them in a certain situation. That's one thing my job has taught me more than anything else, empathy for others.

216horrorworks20 karma

Probably late to the party but, how many new cases(?) would you say you deal with on a monthly basis?

rpg_wodehouse34 karma

It varies, but anything from 3 to 30, with an average of 11 per month. Different cases will require vastly different amounts of work though, so it doesn't always follow that the more cases I have the busier I am.

Stiamata19 karma

You seem like a wonderful person, sincerely. All your answers are so thoughtful, kind and interesting.

Also, have you seen the documentary "Dreams of a Life"?

rpg_wodehouse7 karma

Thank you very much. And no I have't seen that, but I'm aware of it and it is definitely on my list of films I'd like to watch. I'll bump it up the queue now that you've mentioned it.

Imatwork12345678917 karma

What would you say the best/greatest life lesson you've learned has been? What do you value or appreciate more now?

rpg_wodehouse70 karma

Well, without wishing to sound cheesy, it is that everyone is unique. Their uniqueness may not always be good, and it may not always be obvious to others, but that each and every person on the planet is different in some small way, and we should recognise and celebrate that fact.

syncchick14 karma

What's the strangest thing you found out about a deceased person?

rpg_wodehouse46 karma

There isn't a single strangest thing, and some of the more unusual I've covered elsewhere, but another little story that occurs to me now was a man in his 70s, a bit of an eccentric from what I could gather, no known family. He had told people for years that he was great friends with a well-known American singer (who I won't name here, but popular in 70s/80s, certainly a household name). None of his neighbours believed him, apparently he was always saying things that were a bit dubious. I didn't believe it either, until I found some paperwork in his property that seem to corroborate the story. I found a way to get in touch with the manager/agent of the singer, and a few weeks later I got an email back from the manager/agent saying '(Name of the singer) was really sad to learn of the death, please pass our best wishes on to the family'. I hadn't mentioned anything about the family, so they obviously just made an assumption there. And I know that isn't confirmation that they were definitely friends, but it seems likely that they had known each other at one time.

Die_Nadel12 karma

What is the most rewarding time you've found the deceased's family?

rpg_wodehouse52 karma

I was probably the school photo incident I mentioned in the AskReddit post. The son lived abroad at the time, I from what I can gather was very very upset by the whole thing, but I'm sure would also have taken comfort from at least knowing what had become of his Dad. I would like to think that me managing to get in touch has helped him come to terms with some pretty major emotions he must have been carrying. But who knows.

There was a similar case where I found a letter in a man's belongings from an estranged son. The letter from written back in the 90s, but amazingly the address was still correct. I always write to any address I find, or call any number I pick up, and usually it leads nowhere, but sometimes you get lucky. The son I found on this occasion had only met his Dad once, and it had ended in an argument. He has relieved more than anything to find out that his Dad had died, as he no longer knew where he lived. It was another case where I think he got some closure because I'd been able to get in touch and let him know the sad news.

flyingbiscuitworld11 karma

Have you seen the film Still Life starring Eddie Marsan? If so, what did you like/dislike about it?

rpg_wodehouse23 karma

I started watching it, but after 5-10 minutes I already found it difficult and gave up. There was something a bit too 'real' about seeing my job on screen, plus there were inaccuracies and liberties taken for dramatic licence that irritated me, which I can only imagine would have worsened if I'd sat through the whole thing. I don't doubt it's a good film, I'm just a little too close to the subject.

Segphalt10 karma

This might sound insensitive and I don't mean it as a joke but seriously without offence.

What is the point? Isn't the idea of a funeral so that the people that knew the person could get some sense of closure? If the person has no one why do this?

rpg_wodehouse50 karma

It's a perfectly reasonable question. We are not obliged to provide a funeral service, we are only obliged to 'dispose of the body' (for want of a better term). However, it has been a long standing thing in my area that people will get a service anyway, even it it's only a brief one. In part it is so that should any any family members be found, they can take comfort from the fact that a proper funeral was held. It is also a matter of dignity and respect for the deceased, that it is right and proper that they be laid to rest in a service which at the very least acknowledges their life.

add_darkswd10 karma

If I want to enter into this career path, what kind of qualifications do I need? And do I need connection with the government bodies to open up a company that specialize in handling this specialized jobs?

rpg_wodehouse12 karma

It depends which country you are in. I can't advise on the US, but in the UK you would need to contact your local council and find out which dept deals with it and then find out what qualifications are required. In some places they only deal with a small handful every year, so it isn't a full time job everywhere. But if you are in a big city, chances are there's someone doing the same job as I do.

nyugnep9 karma

What kind of education path did you take?

How much do you make? (considering emotional damage that might come with the job)

Are you content with your job as a career?

rpg_wodehouse25 karma

I have a Master's Degree but in an arts subject, nothing to do with my job. I was lucky because I did a lower level job in the same office, but proved myself as a good employee, which is why my manager was happy for me to take this job on.

In terms of being content, I don't think I could do this forever. It is fascinating, but there is something about dealing with nothing but death all day that inevitably grinds your soul a bit. So I think I will look for different work at some point in the future, preferably away from the death industry altogether. I'll still have my stories though...

chicken_dinnerwinner8 karma

How often do you find a will?

Do you ever discover someone has a large network of friends and family they've just somewhat recently (a few years) fallen out of touch with, or does everyone have only a few connections?

What kind of responses do you get from the people you contact? Are they ever angry for being contacted?

rpg_wodehouse25 karma

Wills aren't that common, maybe one case in every twenty, at a guess. You are always looking for one, but the reality is that without someone pushing you it is easy to put it off.

In terms of the responses I get, sometimes anger, sometimes relief, often sadness. It depends on what kind of relationship that person had with the deceased, and how it had been left. Estranged children for example are often very torn, partly glad that their hated parent has died, and partly grief stricken that things ended as they did. I suspect that there is a part of all people in those situations that imagine that the relationship will be mended one day. It must be hard to know that the door is closed forever on that possibility.

Cambidillio8 karma

Who do you technically work for (maybe a local government)? How large of an area do you cover?

rpg_wodehouse17 karma

Local government. And I cover a city in the UK with a population in the region of half a million people.

SunsetVampire3 karma

You cover the city as in your are the only Bereavement Services Officer for the entire city or you are one of X people that hold that title in the city?

rpg_wodehouse9 karma

There are several people with my job title, but I'm the only one that deals with this aspect of the work. People with the same title will cover a range of services. For example, an Environmental Health Officer may deal with these types of funeral, but also with food standards, hazardous public waste, exhumations. The way the work is distributed will depend on the requirements of the area. It just so happens that in my area, the funeral work is equivalent to one persons workload, and that person happens to be me.

ajbwood2 karma

So the local government pays for the funerals if no family is located?

rpg_wodehouse8 karma

Initially yes, and then I reclaim the costs from the estate of the deceased where there is money to be claimed. One of the things I'm looking for in a property is details of any assets. The first costs taken from an estate must be the funeral costs, so even if they are up to their eyes in debt, if they have a few hundred/thousand in an account, we get it first. For the most part it actually costs the local government very little to run the service, as it more or less pays for itself (as long as I'm doing my job right, anyway).

thehidden9998 karma

What is that one thing you have seen that you wish you didnt see?

rpg_wodehouse54 karma

There is nothing I've seen that I wish I hadn't. Even unpleasant things open my eyes to the way that people live, so I learn from all of it. That said, I did see some fairly explicit homemade photos in one place, the subject being a lady of advancing years. I probably didn't need to see that.

techknuckle7 karma

What does your career future look like? Is this the type of job you stick with for your whole career or do you intend to move upward and onward to something else? If so, what would you do?

rpg_wodehouse14 karma

Unfortunately there is no career path whatsoever within this job, so I won't do it forever and probably won't be in the death industry forever.

hectoes7 karma

What are some of the perks? Can you take stuff home? Meet cool people?

rpg_wodehouse22 karma

You can't take stuff home, but you do get to travel around quite a lot. I go to hospitals and police stations, plus visiting the properties themselves, so I'm not chained to a desk all day. I also get on really well with the people I deal with regularly, and I'm always meeting new people (eg the friends of the deceased).

sedopolomut6 karma

Hello again, rpg_wodehouse! I wrote you a PM before and I wanted to thank you again for your interesting responses and doing such an interesting AMA. I wanted to ask you this question, what was the creepiest apartment/flat that you've been to? Like maybe you could not see anything specifically creepy but you just felt that something was not right in this apartment/flat, like a gut feeling and then maybe you even found some proof of your feeling being right.

rpg_wodehouse18 karma

Lots have been creepy for a variety of reasons. One that sticks with me was the flat of someone who died in a fire. The front room was completely burnt out - a microwave had caught fire and the all the furniture was black and burnt, pictures on the wall had cracked and fallen off, the carpet was destroyed, it was such a scene of devastation. The creepy part came when I looked down and realised I was standing on the exact spot where the person had died, their outline still visible against the carpet. That gave me a shiver.

There have also been times when I've been in a property and the phone has rung. I don't know why but that always shocks me and creeps me out slightly.

taytermuffin3 karma

Do you answer it? Do you check people's voicemails on their cell phones and things like that?

rpg_wodehouse4 karma

I do, and I also check voicemails, text messages, call logs etc where possible.

Awesalot6 karma

Can I write a short story based on your experiences?

rpg_wodehouse16 karma

If you like.

BoyWithTheCoolName6 karma

How long is your work day?

How many days a week do you work?

What do you do in your free time?

Thanks for doing this AMA, it's very interesting!

rpg_wodehouse14 karma

Normal working hours, 9-5, Mon-Fri, a bit of variation if I need to stay late, but that isn't often. As for my free time, nothing exciting: gaming, motorbiking, nothing death related anyway.

Gravelock6 karma

What is your job title? Never heard of this job

rpg_wodehouse10 karma

In the UK it is either called a Bereavement Services Officer or Environmental Health Officer.

seamarine_6 karma

Is your job in any way particularly difficult?

rpg_wodehouse27 karma

It isn't difficult, you just have to be thorough. You can't cut corners or try to do things quickly, you need to be methodical and organised. And above all, you need to care about the work - there is no punishment for me if I miss something during one of my searches, but it weighs on your conscience if you feel that you could have done your job better.

nergal315 karma

Did you ever find anything that made you laugh real hard?

rpg_wodehouse31 karma

There are often slightly unusual things you find, and often you will laugh at the unexpectedness of finding them. One that comes to mind was in a jacket thrown over a sofa. You always check pockets in jackets for phones, wallets etc, and when I patted this one down I felt some large objects inside the pockets. When I investigated it turned out that these objects weren't in the pockets but in the lining of the jacket itself, like someone had stitched them in there. I tore at the seams, and out dropped a half-eaten pork pie and a carton of milk. I laughed at that.

spadababaspadinabus5 karma

How do you find out about and get access to things that only the deceased had access to? For example, if the deceased had a safety deposit box.

rpg_wodehouse16 karma

This is a fun bit of my job. Sometimes you have to just break things open - I've crowbarred older models of safety boxes before (and on one occasion found a will by doing so, so it is definitely worth it). I've also come across proper wall safes before, and you'd be surprised how often people will write down the codes somewhere in their property. I had one case where I found a wall safe hidden under the sink, 4 digit code required. I looked all round the property and found lots of codes written down in the back of a journal the man had been keeping. I didn't know if it would let me have unlimited tries, but I started inputting them, and about the third or fourth worked, much to my amazement. In the safe were several mobile phones, and documentation relating to the Orange Order (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orange_Order). I've had other times where we just couldn't get into a wall safe, and there isn't much you can do about it, which is frustrating.

Another thing I do is check mobile phones for any contacts, but it is increasingly becoming a that people have smartphones which require codes to get access to. There is little you can do with those. One small way around the codes is often when a text comes through, the number appears on the lock screen. I've kept phones on my desk before, hoping that a text comes through, and then phoning the person who sent it when it does. It isn't a perfect system, but it has worked on a couple of previous occasions.

blastoise_mon3 karma

Hey buddy, I'm sure you already know this, but if it's an iPhone most of the time Siri doesn't require a password when you tell it to "call home" or "call mom". Thanks for everything you do!

rpg_wodehouse5 karma

I didn't know that, thanks for the tip. I love things like this, I will make a note and it may prove to be very useful to me!

MarsNirgal5 karma

How often it happens that you are completely unable to find someone who knows the deceased? What happens in those cases?

Has there been a case when you've been unable to determine a person's identity?

Does your work also cover homeless people?

rpg_wodehouse17 karma

It probably happens in one case out of every 20-30, so not that common. If it does happen you have no choice but to carry on with the funeral, sad as it may be.

There has never been a case where an identity couldn't be established. Thanks to extensive modern records and ID techniques, that is probably a very rare occurrence nationally, never mind the relatively small number of cases I handle. And yes, I will deal with homeless people as well, although surprisingly fewer than you might expect (maybe only 1-2 a year).

wobu224 karma

Have you ever pocketed money you may have found laying around?

rpg_wodehouse28 karma

Never. It would be very difficult to do so even if I wanted to, as all money is logged, searches are carried out with two people present at all times, etc. Obviously you come across cash from time to time, so the job is set-up to prevent someone just slipping something into their back pocket.

In all honesty, I wouldn't do it even if I had the opportunity. It is a pretty low thing to steal from the dead, and I feel to an extent like I am protecting them in the absence of anyone else who can do so. I've actually involved the police a couple of times where I believe money has been stolen after death.

RainbowNihilist3 karma

I'm so glad you posted this and I hope you see this question: a very close friend of mine died of a heroin overdose today. She has no family. Only a 8 year old child and the child's father. They are not together.

She has no living will.

How can I find out what will happen to her body? She has many friends that would organize a ways and means to give her a proper goodbye. How do we make that happen?

rpg_wodehouse6 karma

I'm sorry to hear that. What happens will depend on where you live. If you are in the UK then the coroner will certainly be involved. They will have to carry out a post-mortem to establish the cause of death, and in all likelihood will open an inquest (or at the very least an investigation). The matter may then be passed to the local council and my equivalent there, who, if they are doing their job properly, will stay in contact with you and the ex-partner about the arrangements. If you are in the US then I'm sorry to say I don't know what the procedure is, but speaking to either your local hospital (you could try the patient affairs or bereavement services team) or your local coroner should get you some answers. If you want any further advice confidentially, feel free to PM me.

LogicalTimber3 karma

When you're making phone calls or writing letters to try to find family members, what do you say? I mean, it more or less has to boil down to "I have a dead guy here, did you know him?", but I'm guessing that's not how you phrase it. Are there any protocols around informing family members that their relative has died? Is there any way to break the news gently or does it pretty much have to start with the fact that you're calling because someone is dead?

rpg_wodehouse22 karma

I have a standard letter that I modify and send out. It is fairly blunt, and starts off something like, 'I am writing to inform you of the death of Harry Smith. He passed away at such and such a place on the following date...' There is no point in trying to sugar-coat the message, and the more wordy you get the more confusing it will be for the person who receives it. Same thing with the phone calls - I will ask 'Is someone called Harry Smith known to you?' and if they say yes, I say 'I am sorry to tell you that he has passed away'. You've got to rip the plaster off really, as unappealing as that might be.

Ch1ckenpotpieman3 karma

Will you do mine?

rpg_wodehouse16 karma

Sure, as long as you die in my area with no family.

LB101022 karma

What do you do when you find pets?..(That are still alive.) I always worry about what will happen to people's pets that they loved after they have died.

rpg_wodehouse5 karma

Good question. I've arranged for cats to be taken to a local cats home (one that doesn't ever put them down) before, I've had dogs looked after by neighbours who've then adopted them, I even had one of the housing officers responsible for the property adopt a cat that had come from our of the properties they were responsible for. Generally speaking you will try to find the most suitable home possible, and (thankfully) I've never had to arrange to have an animal put down.

santajf12 karma

How many funerals have you attended and have you become jaded towards them? Have they become just a normal thing?

rpg_wodehouse3 karma

You can become a little jaded towards death in general, and funerals can sometimes seem a little comical almost. But I think anyone in the death industry will tell you that. Like anything, if you do it often enough it becomes mundane. There is definitely a black sense of humour amongst people in my job and funeral directors. Same goes for paramedics and firemen I expect, it's part coping mechanism, and partly from the 'everyday-ness' of it all.

RedstoneRay2 karma

Is your profession a busy job, or do you have a second job?

rpg_wodehouse3 karma

It can vary with how busy it is, but it is enough for full time employment. And no, I don't have a second job.

Glarfl112 karma

How do you get paid?

rpg_wodehouse3 karma

Me personally, I'm on a salary. If you mean in terms of the funeral costs, it comes from the estate of the deceased. So I might find a bank statement in the property of the deceased, for example, and it shows that they had £4k in the bank. After the funeral I will calculate our costs and send an invoice to the bank, then a few weeks later we get paid for the funeral from the estate.

alucard3332 karma

Have you ever got depressed because of your job?

rpg_wodehouse6 karma

It can get you down a bit, but for the most part no. Particularly sad cases will stay with you for a while afterwards, but that's human nature. As I've said elsewhere, I do think there is some part of me that is worn down by the job and I wouldn't want to do it forever.

Funkicus2 karma

Who comes to the funeral?

rpg_wodehouse5 karma

It depends on the case, but it will typically be friends and neighbours, sometimes distant or estranged family if we locate them. If no-one is located at all, then our funeral director (this is the person who actually carried out the funeral) will always be present, plus the minister and usually one of our chapel attendants. Nobody even goes completely alone, at least not where I work.

Mydirtypervyalterego2 karma

Thank you for doing this! How many funerals are you planning in an average month? How big is your case load at a time?

rpg_wodehouse9 karma

I take about 10-11 a month, although it can be wildly inconsistent - I've had months where I've only had 2 referrals, and months where I've had 30, so my case load goes from one extreme to the other.

aSaaadPanda6 karma

I'm really late here, but i was wondering, have you noticed any trends as far as what your "busy season" is? If there is one at all.

rpg_wodehouse6 karma

Broadly speaking it will be the colder months where you see an increase, but it isn't always the case. There is a general trend of peaks and troughs in death rates, I'm not sure why that is. But it is the same for cases I work, it tends to be a few busy months, a few quiet months, a few busy months, and so on.

crusticles2 karma

Has anyone ever approached you to log them as deceased so they could fall off the grid?

Is that even possible in your part of the process?

rpg_wodehouse6 karma

Ha ha, no I wouldn't be able to do that. Nor has anyone ever approached me for such a purpose.

OrganicTomato2 karma

[deleted]

rpg_wodehouse3 karma

99% of cases are cremations, so there is no issue about burial plots. We do have a section on one of our sites for 'unpurchased' graves, as they're known, but these graves are used once or twice a year at most. The ashes will normally either be collected by a friend/family member, or scattered on one of the communal gardens where the funeral is held.

As for being cremated with certain items, that isn't unique to my job, but it is certainly possible. People will often put photographs in the coffin or other items of sentimental value, but as long as it isn't hazardous in some way then it's okay (for example, you can't put a container of liquid in a cremator, like a bottle oh Whiskey or something, as the increasing temperature will cause it to explode).

Quietdreamer4201 karma

How do you get paid? Who pays you?

rpg_wodehouse2 karma

I'm a city council employee, so the local government body.