7 Practical Steps to Prepare Your Family for Your Passing

7 Practical Steps to Prepare Your Family for Your Passing

Honoring my brother’s passing by sharing the lessons learned.

Early on Labor Day, my husband awakened me, explaining that my sister-in-law had called to tell me my brother was in Intensive Care. I called her immediately. Through her tears she sobbed, “Will you please come?”

honoring my brother's passing

Visiting my brother, Michael, in May 2015

Last minute flights are hard to come by, especially on a holiday. I hurriedly booked my flight, flustered by the urgency I was feeling, and headed to the airport. Before getting into the long security lines, I stopped to sit on an open bench for just a moment. I needed to settle. My mind was swirling with thoughts. My anxiety was rising.

I imagined seeing Michael hooked up to a ventilator. I hoped to cheer him on through recovery. At very least, I hoped to be able to say goodbye.

But then… a text came: “Michael is gone.”

Receiving such shocking news is difficult, no matter the circumstances. As travelers whisked by, rolling luggage, racing for a gate, I felt surrounded by people—yet profoundly alone. I re-read the text and cried. My older brother was gone.

Unprepared loved ones feel bewildered.

During the subsequent days, I observed my sister-in-law’s bewilderment. Like many Americans, my brother had not prepared for the end of his life, and had no Will in place. His wife would soon find his computer and telephone password protected, making access impossible. Bills needed to be paid and she couldn’t find any checks. She hadn’t learned online banking. Moreover, she had no functioning computer. Her grief became mingled with anxiety and anger.

Meeting with the funeral home and their pastor, the prevailing question was repeated: “What do you think Michael would want.” In tears, my sister-in-law replied, “I don’t know… I don’t know.”

Could this happen to your family?

Like millions of other Americans, most of us of all ages have not prepared for our own end of life.  Sadly, I witnessed first hand how this lack of preparation affected my sister-in-law.  May I boldly say… Please don’t do this to YOUR family.

When will we—you, me, our loved ones—overcome our denial regarding our certain death? Leaving loved ones to grieve is natural and part of the human experience. Expecting loved ones to “guess” what your final wishes are adds to their grief. Leaving loved ones to cope with a financial mess that’s left behind is utterly unnecessary.

Please prepare your family for your eventual passing—and this isn’t just for people in old age. Every day the obits list young people—many in their 50s and 60s, who die suddenly from accidents or illnesses. Spare your loved ones from the pain and anguish of struggling to settle your estate. Own the responsibility of putting your affairs in order so that, no matter when or how, your passing can be honored and your life celebrated without a cloud of resentment tainting the memories of who you were and the life you lived.

7 practical steps will prepare you and your family.

Following these 7 practical steps will ensure your loved ones are prepared for your eventual passing.

  1. Talk about it. Have a family meeting to candidly share your final wishes. Allow loved ones to ask questions. Prepare together, mutually, so that every family member’s passing can be honored.
  2. Write your healthcare directive. Make your treatment preferences clear. Empower the right decision-maker(s) as your healthcare power of attorney.
  3. Create an estate plan. An estate attorney can guide you in preparing a will, and potentially, a living trust. Spare your loved ones from the hassle of probate.
  4. Specify your beneficiaries. Ensure that beneficiary designations listed on any of your assets are accurate, and correctly recorded. (Remarriage or the death of a loved one may require updating.)
  5. Create a list of key contacts. Give your spouse and/or adult children a list of crucial contacts, including attorney(s) and financial advisor(s) who can guide them through estate administration. Facilitate introductions in advance via conference calls or in-person meetings so these professional resources won’t be strangers during the stressful days after your passing.
  6. Organize important papers in one accessible place, whether a 3-ring notebook or a shared on-line folder. Everplans offers a terrific online storage service for end-of-life documents.
  7. Create a digital Will that records your on-line accounts (email, social media, shopping), enabling your designated emergency-access contact to dismantle your on-line presence. For example, should your Facebook page be left open for a time for friends to share messages as memorials? Who will ensure your purchased music or Audible books can be transitioned to another owner?

We all—every adult of every age—need to get real about the certainty of death. Own your ending so your loved ones can gracefully and gratefully pen the final chapter of your life, memorializing a life well lived and a peaceful passing.

1 Comment
  1. I`m so sorry for your loss. Hold close your memories. You are so right about what needs to be done. I`m working on my list & I appreciate your email reminders & suggestions. Gods blessings, Susan Leland

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