10 Helpful Tips Before You Keel Over
Making it EZ-PZ for those you leave behind
It was an uneventful Thursday until my best friend called to say her mother had died unexpectedly.
My friend and her brothers were in shock and totally in the dark about what to do. Their mother, who had divorced years ago, left no instructions, plan, or direction for her final wishes. What kind of funeral did she want, and where did she want to be buried? What do they do with the house and the cars? At this time of great grief, my friend and her brothers were overwhelmed with the next steps.
There’s a takeaway for all of us: Think ahead. Following are a few tips that will help make things easier for our children at a time when they need our guidance and direction most.
1. Make your wishes known. Deciding on one’s eternal resting place is a big decision. Don’t leave it up to someone else to decide whether and where you want to be buried or cremated.
2. Where’s your will? In our house, it’s in my office. You know, in the set of drawers over by the thing. (Be clear!)
3. Some credit cards offer life insurance. Do you have the papers in order? I knew someone who, by chance, was looking through his deceased father’s papers and found $150,000 on some arcane credit card.
4. Your beloved pet. To whom will you bequeath it, and does that person know? Having a pet is a huge responsibility. At best, your friend or family member will be overjoyed to take it on. At worst, they are allergic, and the burden will fall on them to find the right new home. In addition, would you like to have your pet taken care of in the manner they are accustomed? Consider making a monetary provision for them in your will. (Maybe NOT like infamous hotel queen Leona Helmsley, who left her precious pooch $12 million!)
5. If you have a safe deposit box, be sure that your children know at which of the over 5,000 FDIC-insured commercial banks in the United States it is. Again, be clear on which bank and branch. Oh, and the key in the little envelope they handed you when you initially opened the box? Do you know where it is? Be sure someone does. Sure, the bank can call in a locksmith, but that’s added expense and aggravation.
Another thing: Who can access the safe deposit box? A court order may be needed to open a box that is held only in the name of the deceased, although these rules vary from state to state.
6. Did you opt for a “safe” box at your house? Again, be sure to inform someone where it is. And, again, if it is locked, that special someone will need to know the combination or where you keep the key.
SIDENOTE: I have another friend whose mother let her know that she had two “safe” boxes. One was in the basement (found it!), and one was “under a pile of black cashmere sweaters.” Great, except that her mother died in July.
The sweaters were packed away somewhere. Maybe in the attic? In summer storage at the dry cleaner? The search added another quandary amidst the grieving.
7. Passwords. Your bank account, email account, Facebook, Instagram, etc. Not only will the list be enormously helpful to have in one place for your family, but it will also prevent someone from hacking your FB account and sending messages on your behalf by mistake after you’ve passed to the other world.
Don’t laugh; this happened to one of my friends. They didn’t know until an old family friend wrote, “Did you know I’m still getting ‘Likes’ on Facebook from your father?” (Who died, like, LAST YEAR?)
8. Do you have money hidden all over the house? I have known people to find cash stuffed in mattresses (not creative), in a Tupperware filled with cookies in the freezer (sort of creative), and in a can of Ajax in the garage (creative).
Keeping a small amount of cash in an allocated spot (that you’ve told someone about) is fine. However, the safest bet is deposit the bulk of it in the bank where it can make interest. (Remember #5 on this list? There are over 5,000 FDIC-insured commercial banks in this country from which to choose. Select one of them.)
9. Delegate someone to go through your stuff and gather anything you don’t want anyone else to find. Like the doobie you have stashed in an ashtray on the top shelf of the corner hutch? Will people lose respect for you if they find that copy of Fifty Shades of Grey where you put place marks?
What about love letters from that person you met in San Marco Square on your first trip to Venice?
10. How about jewelry? Remember that ruby ring you put in a secret place before you went on a cruise a few years ago? And when you got home, you forgot where you hid it? Maybe now that you’re dead, and the place is being emptied out, someone could keep an open eye for the precious heirloom.
If you are reading this with sound mind, do your homework. Make a plan. And be sure to keep loved ones in the loop if you have any revisions.
And until “The Plan” is called upon, go live your life to the max. Have a hale and hearty time experiencing all you can before your time is up.
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