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, no plan, and no direction of 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 next steps.
After the funeral and burial, I asked what was the takeaway for all of us.
“My brothers and I did what we thought our mother would have liked,” she responded. “Who knows … maybe she would have preferred Lynyrd Skynyrd’s blues rock to the ‘Amazing Grace’ hymn. It would have been nice to have known upfront.”
That said, here are a few tips that we can all consider to, in a way, still parent from the grave. The following will help make things easier on our children at a time when they need our guidance and direction most.
1. Make your wishes known. Deciding one’s eternal resting place is a big decision. Don’t leave it up to someone else.
2. Where’s your will? In our house, it’s in my the office. You know … in the set of drawers over by the thing. (Be clear!)
3. Credit card life insurance papers. Do you have everything you need? 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? This 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.
5. If you have a safe deposit box, be sure your children don’t have to guess at which of the over 5,500 FDIC-insured commercial banks in the United States houses your box. Be clear on which bank and branch. Oh, and the key that comes in the little pouch handed to you when you initially opened the box? Do you know where it is? Be sure someone does. Safe deposit boxes cannot be opened without the key. Sure, the bank can call in a locksmith, but that’s added expense and aggravation. Also, 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? 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? Maybe in summer storage at the dry cleaner? The search added another quandary amidst the grieving. PS: My friend found the box but never found the key to it. She eventually had to have it drilled. The second “safe” box, which was under the cashmere sweaters, is MIA.
7. Passwords. To everything … 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?”
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. The safest bet, though, is to deposit the bulk of it in the bank. (Remember #5 on this list? There are over 5,500 FDIC-insured commercial banks in this country from which to chose. 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 List” 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. (And it will be, after all. Be prepared!)