Friday, September 18, 2015

Preparing for Death

Most of us don't like to think about it, but the reality is that all of us are going to die someday.  Hopefully we will leave behind a large number of people who will miss us.  What we do not want to do is make the process any harder on ourselves or our loved ones than it has to be.  Like many other things in life, a little preparation can go a long way towards easing burdens, and when you are terminally ill is not usually the best time to start those preparations.

Prepare Yourself

Think about what you want

It is one thing to say "I don't want to die in the hospital hooked up to a bunch of machines" and yet another to decide what you DO want.  The younger you are the greater the possibility that if you die in the near future it will be via sudden accident rather than lingering illness.  Still, you need to consider some "what if's" and talk to your doctor and your next-of-kin about them.  Do you want to exhaust every effort to keep you alive, or are you ready to go?  Would you rather die at home, or someplace away from where your children are?  These decisions may never have to be made, and what you would choose today may be different from what you would choose later in life, but giving your loved ones some guidance now, before death is on the immediate horizon can help make the decisions when they have to be made.  

Think about your spiritual beliefs

While there are some people who are avowed atheists, many of us profess religious beliefs of one sort or another.  While deathbed conversions or confessions make good movie scenes, when I'm on my deathbed I do not want to fear what is to come.  Live your life today in accordance with what you believe about the hereafter.

Live your life fully

There is a country song about living like you are dying, in which the man who was told he was dying went "sky diving, Rocky Mountain climbing and 4.7 seconds on a bull named Foo Man Choo".  Unfortunately, by the time most of us realize we are indeed dying, it is too late to do those things.  As another old saying goes, "No one laying on their deathbed wishes they had spent more time at work".  While we have to think about the future, don't put off living until....because until may never come.

Prepare Your Family

Death is a tough subject to discuss, but failing to discuss it doesn't keep it from happening.  If you have minor children, who do you want to raise them if you and their other parent are unable to do so?  Have you spoken to that person?  Named them in your will?  Have you and your spouse discussed end-of-life care and your wishes about it?  Is there dissension in your family that is likely to cause trouble if you die?

If death is on the near horizon, tell your family what you want.  Do you want to be as conscious as possible or as pain free as possible?  Do you want to fight to the bitter end or throw in the towel and hook up the morphine?  You may even want to plan your own funeral. 

Prepare Your Affairs

Have the proper documentation prepared

At a minimum, this means most people need a will.  If you are single with no children, and you know the laws of intestate succession in your state (what happens to your property if you die without a will) and are happy with that distribution, you may think you are fine without a will--and the fact of the matter is, it won't make any difference to you because you will be gone.  However, it is amazing the fights some families can get into over seemingly stupid things regarding inheritances, and I can tell you right now who wins such fights--the lawyers.  

Besides your will, you need to consider a Durable Power of Attorney (document that allows the person you choose to act as your legal representative if you become incapacitated), a Medical Power of Attorney (allows the person  you choose to make medical decisions for you if you can't) and a Living Will (spells out your wishes about end-of-life care.  If you do not have these documents and get to a point where you cannot make decisions for yourself, someone will have do do it.  The person chosen then may not be the person you would choose.  Also, if there are disagreements in the family about what to do, ending up in court becomes more likely.  Documents you may need include a Special Needs Trust if you have a handicapped family member.  

Make Lists

Document your assets and let someone you trust know where the records are kept.  Somewhere known to you and known to your executor, you need to have a list of all financial accounts, along with passwords, if needed. Also, list your real property as well as any movable assets of substantial value (cars, furs, jewelery, good electronics for example).  For most of us, most of our property comes under the category of "used furniture" which we all know has little value (but is expensive to replace).  If you have life insurance or annuities that should be on this list as should any retirment plans.  Do you have a facebook account?  Can anyone access it?  What do you want done with it?  Who should be notified of your death?  

Make Money Available ASAP

Just because you die doesn't mean your bills will immediately stop, particularly if you die young.  Try to arrange things so that somone has access to some of your money quickly, particularly if there are employees to pay.  This can be done via  a joint bank accout or a "payable on death" account.  This gives someone the ability to pay urgent bills even before the will is probated.  

Consider What Would Happen to Your Business

If you own your own business, consider the value that business would have if you didn't show up tomorrow.  If you are the sole owner and sole employee and the business basically sells your labor, then the only succession plan you need is that your family needs to know how to shut the business down.  On the other hand, if you have employees and believe the business has value as on ongoing entity, then think about what you would want to happen to it if you dropped dead tomorrow--and then get a lawyer to draw up papers that make your wishes a reality.  


Death is going to happen; be ready when it does.
*Part of Financially Savvy Saturdays on brokeGIRLrich, A Disease Called Debt and Femme Frugality*


  1. A preacher at a church we once attended used to say We are born to die. I didn't much like it but it's true. You need to be ready for the people you leave behind. You don't want to leave them a mess. Your tips are so helpful! Have a great day

  2. I wrote a lot about this when my grandmother passed away. I think even if you keep all the papers - please keep them organized! Buy a binder and split it into sections. You also don't need to keep every paper ever. That's just as frustrating as not having the information you needed.

  3. I must admit I don't like thinking about death or anyone close to me dying, although the older I get, the more I know I will have to deal with this soon in some way. It is important to get paperwork and wishes in order, but honestly, I'm not sure I can face it yet! Thanks for sharing this and I'll definitely be bookmarking this to come back to.

  4. We learned that a hand written will with two people as witnesses in front of a notary is acceptable in most states. So, if you just cannot get to a lawyer, this is a small alternative until you can!

    1. You are right, it is. And if your affairs are pretty simple and your family all gets along, this, or downloading a form from the internet may be fine. However, if people aren't getting along, or there are unusual assets, or disabled children or...then you really should get someone who knows what they are doing to write your will. Is your state a community property state? What does that mean when you die? How are your bank accounts or financial accounts titled? What about real property in other states? How do you leave money to an irresponsible adult child without giving him power to waste it? Those are things an attorney can hlep you with.

  5. You make some excellent points about preparing for one's own death. People may also want to list any online subscription services, such as Nexflix or website hosting, which heirs would have to cancel. Leaving a note with passwords makes it easier for the heirs to access the accounts, so that they can have the information available when they call to cancel.

    Lachelle Muse @ Ernstam