If Benjamin Franklin has taught us anything, there are two sure things in life: death and taxes. As tax season kicks into full gear, it’s a good time to also start planning for the inevitable. What will happen when we’re gone? The checklist of settling a person’s estate can be lengthy, not to mention overwhelming and tedious for our loved ones. Wherever you’re at in life, there’s no time like the present to start planning for your death.
As we compile documents needed to file our taxes, we should simultaneously begin consolidating other important information, such as bank accounts, Social Security number, passwords and other papers in a “When I Die” file.
While the majority of Americans file taxes, less than 37% of adults have an advance directive, less than 30% have a living will and only 33% have health care powers of attorney, according to a University of Pennsylvania study, demonstrating there is a large population of those who aren’t thinking about their end of life.
Just as we plan for other big life events, planning for your life after death should be just as important. Gathering your documents doesn’t need to happen overnight but taking care of things a little bit at a time won’t be as overwhelming.
Your loved ones already will have a lot to process when you pass away; having important information in a spreadsheet or written down will help tremendously when they need to unlock your iPhone to access your contacts, log in to your social media accounts to shut them down, call your utility companies to turn off service or search for files they think may exist.
Legal documents, such as birth, marriage or divorce certificates, a will and living trust, life insurance, deeds and titles, among others should also be included in your “When I Die” file. Keys to your safety deposit box, safe combinations and other papers, including your advance directive and instructions for your funeral or final disposition also should be in one place.
Also consider writing an ethical will to leave a lasting impact to those you hold close — sage advice, life lessons, beloved quotes — to help them remember you as you once lived. Letters to specific friends and family members will bring closure and help them heal during a difficult time.
Death, especially our own, is not a topic most of us are comfortable with. However, ensuring our loved ones have an easier time in dealing with the material aftermath of our lives will help them during the grieving process.
Michael Paletta, MD, FAAHPM, serves as Hospice of Michigan’s senior vice president and chief medical officer. He oversees a team of licensed providers caring for more than 5,100 patients annually throughout the state. Paletta also guides policies and protocols related to patient care.