Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life:
Who is it, darling? It’s a Mr. Death or something. He’s come about the reaping. I don’t think we need any at the moment…
Nobody wants to think about death, but unfortunately our family has had a lot of experience with it the last few years. With the state of the world now, I thought it might be useful to write up a post on our experiences, what you should do to plan and how to make things easier for your loved ones when the time comes.
When I was younger, I can remember having an intense fear of dying (and of losing other people in my life). The funeral of my great grandmother was open casket and was very traumatizing for me. I also remember my next door neighbor dying after an ambulance pulled up outside – she was the first person close to me that died and I had nightmares about it for years. I remember going on a trip to southern California shortly after that and having an existential freakout in the backseat of the rental car as we drove from LAX to Anaheim. Sorry about that, mom and dad.
As I’ve aged, my thinking about death has become less scary and more sensible. It’s still incredibly hard to mourn and deal with loss, but now I know it’s a part of the natural cycle in our world. That’s not an easy thing to come to terms with, though, after losing so many people in my family. I thankfully haven’t had a lot of friend funerals yet and feel extraordinarily lucky to not be one of the first after that fateful morning in 2018. And even though I never met them in person, I still get emotional when I listen to a Prince, Tom Petty or David Bowie song.
So, what happens when the reaper comes calling? A good funeral home can help immensely and we’ve had great experiences with Mueller Bies in Roseville. If you’re a fan of the HBO series Six Feet Under, you may have pre-conceived notions of what the funeral home business is all about, but a good funeral director can be a huge help in navigating what is usually an extremely difficult time for people. They will work to arrange cremation or embalming, assist with purchase of an urn or casket, coordinate any desired church services, host visitations, order flowers, help write and publish obituaries in local newspapers, submit paperwork to the state for death certificates and arrange for cemetery services (if needed). These services do not come cheap: expect it to cost $7,000 – $12,000.
So what should you do now to help out your loved ones later?
- Review your insurance and make sure you store all the information in a secure, easy-to-find location like a fire safe or safety deposit box. Keep your beneficiary information up to date and periodically review your coverage levels with a professional to make sure the people you care about get what they need. Term life is way cheaper when you are young and healthy, but whole life acts like an investment that may or may not fit in with your overall retirement and investment planning strategy.
- If you have assets to pass on, it’s a good idea to have a current will that clearly states your intentions so that probate can be avoided. There are free online options to assist with this, but I recommend spending the money to have a lawyer draw this up that is specific to your state. If there are limited assets, there are transfer on death deed and affidavit options in some states, but advice from a lawyer is still the best route for these situations.
- You should spell out health care directives now. End of life care decisions are never easy to think about or discuss, but so is having to guess what people want when they can’t decide for themselves. This is also a good place to talk about cremation versus casket burial, where you want to be buried, what type of service or memorial you would want (if any), what songs you want played, etc.
- Account information and passwords. Get a good password manager (I’ve been using 1Password for many years now) and make sure someone in your family knows where it is and how to access it. Create a spreadsheet that summarizes all of your accounts – checking, savings, investments, retirement funds, credit cards, utilities, loans, etc. Include website addresses, account numbers, login information and any contact information. This will be invaluable, but also needs to be kept as secure as possible.
- Social media and other online accounts. Your login information should be stored in your password manager, but it’s a good idea to think about how you want your online presence managed after you are gone. Facebook allows relatives to “memorialize” accounts, which involves providing a copy of the death certificate. It’s important to also think about things like AppleID, Netflix, Hulu, PayPal, Dropbox, newspaper, magazine and email accounts, which are likely tied to credit cards that will need to be closed (or transferred to someone else).
- If you publish personal websites like this one, there are many issues to address: renewal of web hosting services, domain names, DNS services and SSL certificates. I’d like to think I could keep this website online indefinitely for my heirs to access in the future, but that is not an automatic process by any means.
- Take lots of pictures of the ones you love and keep them organized and backed up (in more than one place). They are some of the most important digital files you will ever create.
In the immortal words of the great Buck Dharma, “Seasons don’t fear the reaper, nor do the wind, the sun or the rain…”Originally published by DK on May 11, 2020 at 12:29 am