Benjamin Franklin once wrote, “in this world, nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”. Sadly, you can’t get out of paying taxes, and death is a part of life. It’s something we all must accept sooner or later, but more importantly, we need to prepare for it.
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This list is about the stuff we can do to get our estate (and ourselves) ready for our inevitable demise, so we don’t become a burden to the ones we love. This list was inspired by a comment from a regular reader, Left_, who tragically lost a friend recently to the Chinese coronavirus. This brings the current pandemic very close to home. I’m sure you will all join me in offering him our condolences.
10 Write A Last Will & Testament
A last will & testament is a legal document you can use to designate what happens to your property after you die. It can also include the details of what will happen to your children, as it enables you to designate a guardian. The last thing it does is establish a person as your executor, which is someone who carried out your wishes as they are written down in your will. While you can write one yourself, it’s best to do it properly, which means going through legal channels.
There are websites online that offer services towards this end, but that may not work for everyone. If you have an attorney on retainer, they can handle it for you, but it really depends on what you’re leaving behind. For most people, an online will takes care of their property, but if you do need to establish a guardianship, or you have millions in assets, it’s best to have a lawyer handle your will. If you die without one, the laws in your state will determine what happens to your property, and it’s unlikely this will align with your wishes.
9 Create A Master File For Your Loved Ones
One of the worst things to happen to any family is for someone who handles all the finances to die unexpectedly. Not only do their loved ones have to cope with the loss, but they also end up having to scramble to pay the bills and keep your property from being repossessed. There’s an easy solution to this problem, but hardly anyone ever does it. You need to create a master file of all your financial information and keep it in a secure location your family members will have access to after you die.
Because this is your most sensitive information, you should store it in a fire safe in your home, and it wouldn’t hurt to keep a copy in a safety deposit box as well. It should consist of all of your bills, the appropriate account information, a listing of your assets, which should include all bank accounts, pensions, and other income information. You want to make sure you don’t leave your loved ones in need after you die, so this is incredibly important. You should include both a print copy and a digital copy, which you can place on a USB thumb drive or SD card.
8 Ensure Your Funeral Or Memorial Service Desires Are Known
While you can include your wishes concerning the way your remains are handled after death, it’s always best to have a conversation with someone close to you and document your wishes, so they can be taken care of after you die. This is something most people think about, but it tends to revolve around the choice between burial and cremation, but there are far more choices than those two. If you’re a Veteran, you need to indicate whether or not you want to be buried in a National Cemetery, which includes the presentation of a flag by active service members in most countries.
If you don’t want that, you need to let someone know, so they don’t assume something, and do it against your wishes. There are also sky burial options, which include having your ashes shot up into the upper atmosphere, where they are released to fall back over the planet’s surface. Whatever your desires, jot them down, tell your spouse or your children, and kill off any potential ambiguity related to your desires.
7 Create A Living Will And Designate A Medical Power Of Attorney
While a last will & testament handles your property, children, and overall estate, a living will handles your person while you’re still alive. This is the document that says exactly what you want to happen to your body when you become incapacitated. If you enter a coma, what should the doctors do? Should they keep you on a ventilator after brain death, or should they pull the proverbial plug? These are difficult questions to answer for anyone, so it’s important you talk about these choices with your loved ones before writing them down.
A living will is a legal document and needs to be handled by legal professionals. You can create one online in the same way as a last will & testament, but due to the fact that this is an advanced directive involving an infirmed person (you), it has to be done legally, meaning you can’t write one down on a napkin and call it a day. You also should designate a medical power of attorney, which is a person you choose to speak for your medical care on your behalf without putting them in legal jeopardy.
6 Don’t Forget About Your Pets
Most people have had a pet of some kind during their lives, and it’s not something you stop doing as you get older. That being said, most people who are sick or know they might die soon, often make arrangements for their pets, but what about the people who die unexpectedly? What happens to the puppy you just saved from the pound or your parrot you’ve been raising from the egg? Animals are treated as property under the law, which means you need to include instructions for them in your will, or they could end up being destroyed.
The best thing you can do for your pets is to make special arrangements in your will via something called a “pet trust.” A pet trust is a legal estate planning tool, which gives you the option to create a way to care for your pet after you die. It designates a person who will claim responsibility (ask them first!), and will set aside money to help them care for your animal. If you have pet insurance, which you absolutely should, you don’t want to burden anyone with that expense, so plan on paying it for several years, and allocate the necessary funds in your pet trust.
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5 Make Plans For Your Digital Life
Whether you realize it or not, you have a separate life online, and there’s a ton of information related to it. From your social media accounts to your pizza delivery preferences, there’s a ton of data floating around with your digital signature attached to it. For a lot of families, this could be their entire photo album, and that’s a lot of memories you don’t want to deprive your family of after you’re gone. You’ve probably read stories of families trying to get into their deceased relative’s Google or Apple account, and if the company is willing, it’s almost always a hassle, but you can prepare for it.
Most companies have a workaround you can implement to ensure your family has access after you die. Google lets you designate exactly what happens and who has access if you don’t log onto your computer for a specified period of time. So, if you want your spouse and children to have access to your Google Photos account if you don’t log on for 90 days, the system will automatically grant them access. Another option is to give them your username and password, but you should change that every so often, making it unfeasible and burdensome.
4 Decide About Organ Donation
Organ donation is something they ask you when you get your license or government ID renewed, and there’s a good reason for that. There will never be a time when a health care worker will assume you wanted your organs donated, which means they have to have the legal authority to strip you for parts — after all, you’re not using them anymore, so why not? Of course, you may have a moral or spiritual reason for objecting to organ donation, which is perfectly fine, and you have nothing to worry about; they won’t take your organs without permission.
When it comes to organ donation, there are several options you can specify beyond simply checking the box that says “Yes” on a government form. You can donate your body to science, which means your cadaver will be given to medical students for study. There are added steps to doing this, as there are private and government bodies set up to take possession of your remains after death. This is different from donating something like your heart or kidney to someone in need, so talk about these options with your family, spiritual advisor, and/or doctor before making a commitment. One important thing to consider is that your faith and government (or medical community) may have different definitions of what constitutes death: leading to organs being harvested whilst you might be deemed living by your religion. This may be the reason that Pope Benedict XVI withdrew his consent to be an organ donor.
3 Ensure Your Spiritual Needs Are Met
This list is mostly about the technical side of life and death, but the spiritual side also needs attending to. This section deals with the way you want your remains treated in death, or shortly before dying. If you are Catholic and need to have a priest organized for the sacrament of Extreme Unction (last rites), you need to make sure that’s known before you become incapacitated. The same goes for how your body is treated. Some faiths require a body to be washed a specific way, and if you don’t indicate your desires toward that end, they may not be fulfilled.
This is something that could be included in your last will & testament, but it’s important, so you want to make sure you go into detail. The instructions for how your remains will be handled can be extensive, so make sure they were written down and available for someone to access once you’re gone. Just because you’re dead or dying, that doesn’t mean you no longer have a voice; it just means that your recorded words will need to speak for you.
2 Leave A Message To Your Loved Ones
While some people claim to be able to communicate with the dead, nothing is certain, and your best bet for keeping in touch isn’t going to be by bugging Whoopi Goldberg into helping you. That only works in the movies, so you’re going to have to rely on a more terrestrial option when leaving a message for your loved ones. This is your opportunity to say goodbye, and it’s something that you don’t want to die without. People who are dying of cancer or some other horrible disease often have some time to do this, but unexpected death leaves your loved ones with nothing, and you don’t want that.
People in high-risk occupations often do this sort of thing, but most people don’t think about it. After all, it’s incredibly difficult to do, but that’s true of most things related to death. You should write your loved ones a letter, letting them know how much you care about them, and leave them with a final goodbye. You don’t have to stick to a letter, as many people opt to do this sort of thing with a video. Think of what you want to say before you record it, and when you’re ready, create your video message, and store it with your master file, or upload it to an app that will deliver it for you.
1 Update Your Information Regularly
All of the above information is great advice everyone should consider when planning for death, but what happens if it’s out of date? After all, you want to have this stuff around for your loved ones in case you die unexpectedly, but since you’re probably planning on keeping that from happening anytime soon, you can just put it off, right? Sadly, no. You don’t want to put anything on this list off, because it’s all about planning for death, which isn’t really something you can plan for. Go through these steps, and update them through the years, and hopefully, through the decades.
Your will can stand for quite some time, but if you have more children or your end up having grandchildren, you may want to leave something to, you’re going to need to update it. You should also update your master file as your accounts and financial information changes. Nobody is going to be helped if all it contains is your Blockbuster Video account information, so keep it updated! Your final messages should be changed every so often as well, so it doesn’t hurt to set a date every year or two for a change.
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