What to do when someone dies – that’s not exactly something that you can wrap your brain around easily when you’re suddenly thrown into mourning.
If you’ve met me or seen my videos or heard my interviews, you might have also picked up on my warped sense of humor. Part of my grieving process is keeping laughter in my life, and the other part is sharing what I’ve learned with others in order to help if you get into this situation.
So, being twisted and wanting to help the world, here’s my necessary and possibly irreverent list of what to do when someone dies so that you can die efficiently:
1) Get a file folder.
2) Inside this file folder, list the information that I’ll share with you in this post.
3) Put the file folder in a drawer that your loved ones will look through.
If you’re worried about a thief breaking into your home office and finding this file folder, keep in mind that 1) most thieves don’t open up file drawers during a job and 2) if they do, they’re not going to take the time to read. (Even thieves hate paperwork!) If you’re still hesitant about placing all of this information in one place, leave a cryptic hint about where your loved ones can find what they need. For example: “You’ll find the special keys in that cabinet with the squeaky drawer.”
Allrighty…here we go. Here’s what to do when someone dies:
Instructions for Your Family:
1) Your wishes – If you haven’t already discussed your wishes with your loved ones, be sure your family knows to look in the folder for this information should you ever become gravely ill. We’d previously discussed my mother’s end of life preferences, so there was no arguing over whether or not to keep her on life support and for how long, or whether to bury or cremate her, or what kind of services she did or did not want to have. The last thing you want your family to do when you pass away is argue over stuff like this, so make sure they know.
2) Where you’ve hidden stuff – You should also let your family know where you’ve hidden valuables or important documents or keys. And even if you’ve told them, you should list the locations in this file. About five years ago, my mom showed me where she’d hidden her two “good” rings, but I didn’t tuck it away in a long term memory bank in my brain because at the time I thought, “Pffffthw! She’s nowhere close to dying,” so I wasn’t fully paying attention.
3) Your will – This is traditionally kept in a safe deposit box at a bank or in a firebox in the home. Be sure to let your family know where this document is located – and where the keys are. If your family members can’t find the safe deposit box keys, they’ll have to provide all sorts of documentation to prove your situation and their relation to you, plus money to pay for drilling the box open.
For the Mortuary:
1) Social security number and driver’s license – This may vary based on the city, county and state where you pass away, but these were needed to fill out paperwork for my mom’s death certificate. Let your family know where they can find your info. Having these ready to go was one less thing we needed to worry about.
2) How your name appears on various accounts – We used my mom’s name on her driver’s license on her death certificate. In the optional “also known as” line, I added a variation that one of her bank accounts used. As it turns out, the hospital would not sign off on the death certificate because for some strange reason, neither of those listings was the way her name appeared on her health insurance card, which is the name that was used on her hospital admittance forms. So, my dad had to go back to the mortuary to re-do all of the paperwork for her death certificate. Let me tell you, it’s hard enough to go in the first time. It’s tougher to go in a second time. Take a look at all of your accounts. While you’re alive and breathing, make sure that your name appears in only one or two different ways. And make sure those variations are listed in this folder so that your family knows what to put on the death certificate.
3) The full names and birth places of the deceased’s parents – The first two pieces of information that I just mentioned are more important, and this third piece can be left semi-incomplete, but you should be aware that your loved ones might be asked this. When your loved ones are in a state of shock, and they haven’t thought about this information in years, they might not be able to recall it on the spot. So, list your parents’ information in this file.
4) The number of financial and legal accounts you have – One of the questions asked while you’re sitting in a mortuary filling out paperwork for your loved one’s death certificate is, “How many copies will you need?” Some banks and financial institutions require original certified copies (not just photocopies or digital duplicates) in order to allow family members access to accounts. Leave a list of these accounts in your file so that your family knows how many copies they need, and they don’t have to search through your files to determine what accounts you have. Yes, your surviving family members can always go to a county office to request additional copies, but that’s just one more thing to do when they’re already trying to get their heads screwed back on again after losing you.
5) Your outfit – If you’re particular about what you want to be buried or cremated in, be sure to leave instructions in this file. The mortuary will ask for undergarments (bra and underwear), pantyhose, and an outfit. Shoes are not required. (Finally, we don’t have to worry about the perfect pair to go with an outfit!)
6) Obituary information – I asked if I’d be able to view the obituary before it was released because there was certain information I did not want in there because identity thieves scour obituaries in order to get information to access accounts or create new ones. We were told that most mortuaries no longer provide obituary service. We opted not to run one. If you want your loved ones to create an obituary for you, please give them permission to not list maiden names, last names of survivors, or your birth date. This is exactly the type of information that identity thieves want.
Your Financial Accounts:
Check with your legal, financial and tax advisers for advice for your specific situation and location. This is what I learned:
1) Pay on Death – If you have a financial account that is in your name only, be sure to list either a beneficiary or have Pay on Death instructions so that this account does not get tied up in probate.
2) Credit Bureaus – Leave instructions for your loved ones to contact credit bureaus to report your death in order to prevent identity thieves from using a deceased person’s information. Doing this is not the first thing that pops into a grieving person’s mind, so a reminder would be helpful.
These are the biggies that jumped out at me in the days following my mother’s passing. I realize that some folks might find it morbid that I wrote a post about what to do when someone dies, but I hope this helps you put together a “death file” for your loved ones so that they can focus on grieving you instead of stressing about what to do and where to find information.