As we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we need a big-picture perspective. Yesterday dad told me he was unable to make decisions about mom’s funeral service. He asked the family to handle the details. I told him that was fine. He needed to be doing only two things: 1) process his emotions and 2) process his faith – in whom he was trusting. That’s the big picture.
Nevertheless, when we die our loved ones will be busy. Since my mother’s death Monday night, I’ve recognized four simple tasks we can do before we die which will help our family when we’re gone. My mother did some of them. Others she did not.
- Get a will. This is the single most important detail for dying well. If you die without a will, your family will have to do a lot more work to settle your estate. It will be messier and cost them more money. You need a will whether or not you are wealthy. If you don’t have a will, get one now. If you can’t afford a lawyer, find a friend with a computer and buy inexpensive software to write your will. It won’t cost much and it won’t take long. It won’t matter to you, but it will matter to your family. Copies don’t count. It must be an original. Mom had a will and she had told us exactly where she kept the original document. Thanks, Mom!
- Complete a planning book. The funeral director will want immediate information, beginning with vital statistics. You might know a lot of the data from memory, but don’t trust your memory. It’s amazing how much we “know” that isn’t true. This information is going to become the official record. Get it right. Mom had a planning book. It wasn’t completely filled out, but it really helped. It was the primary source for writing her obituary. Mom included some of her wishes regarding her funeral. The main problem was that we didn’t know where it was. My sisters looked for an hour or two before they found it. I don’t know what we would have done without it. Get a funeral planning book and fill it out. You can get one online or from a funeral director. Fill it out and tell your family where it is. Mom also kept an up-to-date address book, so we were able to contact distant relatives and old friends. A few numbers didn’t work, but it was a helpful resource. Thanks, Mom!
- Collect the photos. Most funerals now include a display of pictures. If you don’t create a photo collection for your funeral, your family will have to do it at the worst possible time. This was something Mom didn’t do, even though she once had a ton of pictures. Actually, she made it worse a few years ago by giving each of us a photo album of our childhood. Mom didn’t have those photos afterward. Naturally, we didn’t have them with us when we rushed to her bedside. Therefore, we didn’t have many family pictures when we needed them for her funeral. When we were collecting pictures, twenty years were largely missing from mom’s parenting years. We managed to patch something together, but there was more stress than necessary. Collect your photos. Tell your family where they are. Even better, get digital copies.
- Keep some cash. When you die, all your financial accounts will be frozen immediately. It will take a minimum of two or three days for the paperwork to reactivate your accounts. But your family will need money. In our case, dad went to the bank and withdrew money only hours before mom died. That helped with immediate expenses like meals at a restaurant. He couldn’t even use his credit card. That’s why he needed cash. Funeral expenses are yet to be paid, but dad has set aside savings for that. To die well, don’t leave your family with the expense of your funeral. It may cost them more than you expect. Save long-term for the funeral. Keep some short-term cash.
When the pastor arrived to plan the funeral service, Dad stepped up to the plate despite his grief. He joined the meeting and contributed to the discussion. I think it was a helpful experience. I give him credit for courage and courtesy. He had asked to be excused, but when the time came, he stepped up with grace. It was a good family moment.