How To Write a Happier Ending
Have pity on your family - tie up those loose ends while you can.
After one holiday meal, during which my mother saw to it that all her children were well and truly stuffed with her best fare, she ordered the four of us to a meeting in the den. “Since you’re all together, I want you to decide now what you want,” she said. We weren’t sure what she meant, so she explained. “I don’t want you fighting over things after I’m gone.”
We protested, we joked. We argued that there was no rush. We tried to cover the awkwardness of dividing up a living person’s possessions before their eyes. But Mom held firm. Eventually, we complied, and she dutifully recorded our choices). My sister got the silverware. My brothers divided up various antique chairs and tables. I took old books that had belonged to my grandfather.
It seemed silly at the time, and certainly premature. But when she died years later, after an exhausting battle with Alzheimer’s, it looked like one of the smartest decisions she ever made.
In the Talmud, one rabbi advises, “Repent one day before your death.” Of course, other rabbis add, since one never knows what day they will die, they should repent today, just to keep their accounts current with God and other humans.
The same wisdom applies when it comes to putting your personal accounts in order. One day before you die would be soon enough, but today would be better – just in case the sand runs out in your hourglass before you expected it.
Look: Do you want to force your family members to turn your house upside down looking for your will, your insurance, or your passwords, or piecing together all your scattered investments? Do you want to leave your surviving spouse desperate for funds and frantic to figure out how to access the bank account?
This is about doing your heirs a favor. Organize your affairs now, while you can. Then keep it updated regularly.
For example, I serve as my household’s chief financial officer. Despite my youthful vitality and an estimated lifespan of two dozen more years (that’s my estimate, anyway), I don’t want to leave my partner unable to figure out our finances, or even how to pay the recurring bills. So I created a file with the passwords for the online banking sites, a list of all the auto-pay bills, and instructions for moving money between accounts. We each have a will (though they need updating), as well as advance medical directives. It’s not the complete inventory, but it’s a good start.
Show Me the Money
Here’s a short list of things your family members will need to know about finances:
Income and Assets: all your sources of income, where they reside, how to access them.
Expenses and Liabilities: all your ongoing expenses, including automatic withdrawals from your accounts, outstanding debts.
Insurance: where to find all your insurance policies, with policy numbers.
Advisors: accountants, tax preparers, financial advisors, attorneys
The Will: where is it, and who else has a copy. Who is the designated executor.
User IDs and Passwords: for every account, from the laptop to the utilities. Keep a list in a safe place and indicate where to find it.
Other Important Papers: Social Security card, birth certificate, marriage certificate, passport
Safe Deposit Box: where is it and where’s the key.
Legal Title: to real estate, automobiles, etc.
Any Last Wishes?
Then there are your personal preferences as far as how you wish to exit the stage.
Health Care: health care directives, health care power of attorney, power of attorney
Possessions: Who gets the china? The books? The painting of your mother-in-law?
Last Rites: Burial or cremation, cemetery arrangements, funeral location, how you want to be clothed for your last public appearance, choice of pallbearers. Also, were you serious about insisting that the service include Van Morrison’s “Into the Mystic?”
Parting Words: Letters to your children, grandchildren, close friends, Internal Revenue Service.
You don’t have to do this alone. Here are two resources to help you organize the essentials.
“How To Help Your Loved Ones in the Event of Your Death” offers a comprehensive list of things to organize for the benefit of your heirs.
The Lasting Matters Organizer is a system for recording all relevant information. It comes as an e-book ($20) or as a paperback ($29).
Yes, it is uncomfortable to think about your own death. But good advance planning will reduce unnecessary confusion and suffering for your survivors. Don’t wait.