The doorbell rang, but it sounded a long way off.

Her eyes were red from crying. The family had gone home and for the first time since they had arrived she could be herself — and that was miserable. She just wanted to be alone, not to have anyone see the mess she was in. Perhaps they’d go away.

Again the bell rang.

On the doorstep was a neatly-dressed man of about 30. Later, she would be totally incapable of describing him. Was he clean-shaven? She didn’t know. Was he Caucasian? She thought so. How tall? She shrugged.

He had a parcel; something her husband had ordered, he said. It was wrapped in plain brown paper and bore a company label with her husband’s name and address. The deliveryman handed an official-looking invoice to her that she learned later could be produced by anyone with a computer. It was for $97.46. She would have paid almost any amount just to get the man off her doorstep. The check was cashed at a corner store within the hour, the identification false.

She put the package on a hall table, unopened, where it lay with other unopened mail. A daughter, stopping by to check on mom, opened the package several days later: a shoebox containing three pieces of scrap wood.

It had been such an easy crime to pull off, when she had been at her most vulnerable. The crook had obviously seen the obituary in the newspaper, and the rest had been simple. He found widows easier to prey on than widowers, and could make a considerable amount of money in a few days in a large city before moving on. Most of the time his victims were too upset and embarrassed to tell anyone they had been swindled. The amounts were always small enough to avoid, in most cases, detailed questioning or refusal of the package.

Crimes of this type are particularly cruel, coming on top of the bereavement and the bewildering array of legal and administrative detail to be worked through. Their victims offer easy pickings – yet it is a crime so easily prevented.

Keep a list of anything you have ordered and not yet paid for. Keep it updated. Let your spouse and executor know where you keep it. Then, if someone claims to have a package for you that’s not on the list, see that it’s refused.

This is just one of dozens of helpful ideas presented in The Estate Manual and its electronic counterpart, THEMES™ – estate planning’s missing link. The manual organizes the human side of estate planning. This area is often overlooked, but it makes a huge (and obvious) difference to survivors. It is an easy-to-use system for making sure nothing is left out of your planning. Learn more at

Sydney Tremayne


  • Sydney Tremayne has enjoyed successful careers as a journalist on three continents, as a government official ("Whew!" is his only comment), and as investment advisor. His first book - on investing - was a Canadian best seller.

    His most recent book, The Estate Manual, puts a human face on estate planning. It encourages readers to take charge of all the personal details -- documents, bank accounts, real estate, training an executor.

    Sydney is an Empowering Caregivers featured expert, learn more about Sydney