Planning for Death.

Donnie and I have been talking a lot about death. Partly because we now have an adult child, so we have to revisit a lot of the decisions we had made previously regarding “worst case scenario” – seeing both of us either dead or incapacitated. But this suddenly feels more urgent to me in the wake of that terrible limo accident 2 weeks ago where several sets of parents were killed. 

As we work through a lot of the legal and personal details of our end-of-life wishes, it has me wanting to pool my friends online and off, what would you do differently? Have you seen any post-death complications that could have been remedied with early planning? Everything from needing multiple copies of keys and knowing passwords to beneficiaries being updated on life insurances. Have you learned any lessons you wouldn’t mind sharing?

Because we’ve realized it’s more than just, “Who takes care of the kids if we die?” question. We also have decided we need to do more to make official our “plans” or “wants” after our death. We’ve always been really blasé about it, simply saying things like, “I don’t care…just cremate me or something.” The problem is, if one of us dies, the other person is NOT going to want to figure out the “or something” while also grieving so it’s easier on them if it’s clearly defined. So we’re thinking about things like, What does a memorial service look like for the non-religious? Or even practical things like, Where does it happen? And then finally, the part we hadn’t really considered until recently…Should we warn all of our religious family that there will be no god at our funerals? I mean, death is terrible and tragic but – for the believers – there is a lot of peace and hope in the afterlife and the acknowledgement of that, will our loved ones who are religious care that we’re having a secular service? 

Practically speaking, we won’t be around in our own death to see any fallout, but I honestly don’t know if a non-religious ceremony would upset anyone. I mean, if we officially document our wishes there won’t be any arguments, but will people be upset? Do you talk about these things in advance just in case? So that no one is shocked or confused when there’s no religious service? How much do you let people know your wishes when the chances are pretty good they won’t need to know them. Do we wait and save those conversations for people outside our nuclear family for eventual illness diagnosis or something? When – if ever – do you discuss things outside of your marriage and children?

We are making this a priority in the next few weeks and I was wanting to go into it armed with as many experiences from others as I can get. We don’t talk about death enough in our society, so there’s a lot of things I may need to know that I don’t and if tragedy occurs, I’d rather not have to learn in the moment.

12 Comments

  • Tommy

    A giant cluster occurred after dad’s death even with the luxury of plenty of time to prepare. In the aftermath, I voiced a determination to do better in planning for my family to have a clearer delineation of what to do when we are gone.
    I’ve made zero effort in that regard.
    It’s disappointing to feel something so strongly only to drop the ball completely over time.
    Because of this, there is no help I can offer but encourage you to do it……do it well, and share those findings with us…..or at least me. : )

  • Cheryl

    Can’t really address the religious offending part, as that has not been one of the logistical issues. But here’s what I know. Because of the non-religious aspect, we have just held memorial services at the funeral chapel. You can do religious there as well, but we’ve done several non-religious “services” with the funeral people leading it. It’s usually short and sweet and then we either go to the cemetery if that’s the end plan, or to lunch if it’s a cremation thing. I would suggest that you try and do as much of this as possible up front since your kids are still young, including E, and you really don’t want them having to determine things for their parents. Either that, or make sure you have a sibling or close friend informed to help guide this. The first time I had to “help” my mother with, my father’s, was quite an experience as the child, because there is a LOT of stuff you need to do legally in my state that I would have just guessed about. I did laugh when the guy tried to upsell us the “nicest” coffin. I knew enough to know that my father would haunt me because he would be outraged to spend money on anything other than a garbage bag. Now, mom has arranged (and paid for) most everything for her, including her monument, so all I need to do is make a phone call.

    Also, if it comes to things that you want specific children to have because of family inheritance items (in my family it was a great great grandmother’s engagement ring) make sure you are VERY clear about giving it to which child so that a distant relative doesn’t think that it now goes to them. My uncle has been gone for 30 years and two of his siblings still don’t speak for this very reason. It’s stupid, but so is human nature I suppose.

  • charlene

    Death makes it mark on all of us. I just took a tour of a cemetery on how they are redoing their green spaces and what they can and cant do. here is my list of things I came up with:

    Executer of State:
    Trust for the kids, house etc
    power of attorney
    what measures do you want your spouse do you want your spouse to do if something happens to you. do you want machines to keep you alive?, etc
    Transfer on Death on house, cars etc

    Burial
    Do you want a green death? research this, it is a neat idea
    Do you want you ashes spread if cremated. Some cemeteries will do this in a designated spot.
    how do you want the funeral/visitation
    music
    do you just want a memorial

    hope this helps

  • Elaine C. B.

    Being part of a military family for the last 18 years, we’ve had all sorts of hard (and weird) conversations about death, and the logistics and what-ifs of it all. It sounds like you are thinking practically so the only suggestion I really have is to talk to people (id your loved ones near and far, including the kids) about it. As you say, death is not something we talk about much, or enough, in the U.S. The more people who know your general and specific wishes, the more likely they will get carried out, the easier it will be to plan for them, and the less stressed your family and friends will be in a challenging time. Oh and to make sure people know where the important paperwork is, and review/update it regularly. Good for y’all, may it never be necessary for years and years and years.

  • Amber

    If you password-protect your phone, make sure someone else knows the password or it is recorded somewhere safe. When my dad died suddenly it would have been so much more difficult if we hadn’t been able to access the contacts on his phone. Same for social media passwords, bank passwords, etc. I use a secure password app, so I put the master password and instructions for use in our safe deposit box.

  • Linda

    Two years ago we saw a lawyer to have a revocable trust drawn up. It wasn’t expensive – fixed fee, so no hourly rates to worry about. It covers *everything*, and we can easily change it if our situation changes in the future. The lawyer knew all the questions to ask. It’s comforting to have it all documented and officially on file. Everything from what happens to property and personal belongings, to personal and medical powers of attorney, to funeral arrangements. A benefit is that by putting everything into the trust our heirs don’t have the hassle of probate and taxes. It took me a long time to convince my husband to talk about it. He’s one of those who finds discussing death depressing and morbid, but once he got over that hurdle he found it very interesting. I recommend having a trust drawn up to everyone who can find the funds to do so.

  • Lucy McConville

    I second what Linda said about having a revocable living trust done. I was surprised to recently find out this isn’t standard practice across the country, as everyone here in California does it because the probate and tax costs are so high here. But, even in states where that is not the case, it simplifies things SO much for your survivors. Also, designate and set aside money to pay for your Celebration of Life (memorial), cremation, etc. All of that is quite expensive and you don’t want your kids to have to pay for that cost.

    I really like Amber’s suggestion to put passwords, the trust documents, etc., in a safety deposit box. My children are 22 and 14, so I don’t feel comfortable telling them everything about my financial situation (what they’d inherit if I died tomorrow), my bank account passwords, etc. But I could get a safety deposit box and leave the key for my daughter to use after I die. That would work great. Thanks, Amber!

    Good luck with all of this. You are right that we don’t talk about death enough. It is an inevitable part of being human and it would be great to see it become not such a taboo subject.

  • KJ

    I applaud you for doing this, even though it is difficult, you are making this so much easier on your family, whenever the time comes.

    My grandfather had a file marked funeral, which had all the things he wanted for his funeral (readings, songs, etc.) and explicitly listed for the small sentimental items where he wanted them to go.

    When my dad was diagnosed with cancer, he and my mom sat down and talked about what he wanted to have done, and then when he died, I went with my mom to the funeral home and met with the minister to make it happen. One thing that I wish we had done prior to his death was to bullet point out an obituary, no one in my family are big writers, and it was excruciating to come up with on short notice.

    My mom about twice a year gives me a “do not open unless I die envelope” which has all her financial information, utility contacts, where to find her passwords, etc.

    Karen

  • Beth Edwards

    Plan it in advance. There is a great form for that, I will see if I still have it in a form I can email. We recently attended 2 funerals. One was a visitation followed by funeral with a pastor officiating. He did not know the family in advance. The other was visitation only. There was a third that was a life vcelebratiuon ay Monte Sano Lodge. Its your funeral- so dont plan a religious one. That would be awkward for your kids. The funneral home owners will act as organizers and introduce anyone that wants to speak. I personally want a memorial service in a church,no visitation, but possibly a small reception after. My husband and daughter both hate funerals, so I am not going to make them stand in a line and have people cry to them. I am a Christ follower, and if I feel the need to pray for someone or the family, I can do that on my own time. My daughter and son-in-law had a non religious marraige ceremony. Her future Moth in law asked who is going to object if God is mentioned at your wedding? To which her son said me. I later told her- Its okay God will be there- I invited Him. So the short way of saying this is put down in writing what you want, not what you think you need to do to please others. BTW- I am being creamated

  • Mari

    Have you read Smoke Gets In Your Eyes? So interesting and behind the scenes info about death. Making me want to get my shit together (we have two small kids, so it’s really irresponsible that we haven’t yet).

  • Colleen

    We had a lawyer draw up all of our stuff a few years ago after Andy had the cyclist get hit in front of him and eventually die. The lawyer asked us a bunch of questions. I’m not sure if we covered funeral services though. When my sister’s boyfriend died from cancer, they had a celebration of life (non-religious) in a park pavilion. Everyone brought food and whomever wanted to got up and spoke. He was cremated. I think I’d prefer something like that for me.

  • Liz

    Oh gosh, I feel like I could write you a whole ridiculously long email (even though you don’t know me but I’ve been reading your stuff for years. I swear I’m not a weird stalker). I’m currently sitting in the airport on the way home from my dad’s memorial service and a lawyer appointment yesterday to fix things for when my mom passes based on what we learned with my dad. So here’s what my experiences would suggest:

    Things to consider your adult kid should know:
    – what do you want done with your online presence.
    – who actually is the head account on the cell phone bill.
    – have a will if nothing else so you can get all the forms done without having to go to a lawyer to verify that yes, you really are the next of kin.
    – talk about what kind of service you want. My dad didn’t do my mom and I were guessing. The only parts we knew were he was super religious so it would be at church. And he casually commented that he didn’t want Amazing Grace sung (which both my mom and I picked). I’m not religious but I’m musical and so my favorite parts were the vast musical selections chosen and played by our musician friends. If you have literary friends have readings you think they would like to share. I was thinking how I DO NOT want a church service, but I would love a memorial concert/performance as that’s my place of comfort. Maybe a memorial race since you guys are so involved in the running community?
    – did I mention a will? Even a basic one? Seriously so many fewer tears if my dad had a will.
    – healthcare proxy and ability to gift so the amount available for a nursing home is another thing I learned this weekend.
    – what to do with your remains (though that one seems obvious my mom and I were in shock and at a loss so we just guessed).
    – where do you keep the passwords and accounts and is there an account your adult kid can have access to for emergency expenses.

    Sorry for the word vomit. This post was just exactly where I am at the moment. I’ll go back into hiding now. 😉