Does Your Family Know What to Do When You Die?

Funeral concept - Red flower on tombstone at cemetery

Death comes for us all, whether we plan for it or not. Given that harsh reality, it’s tempting to simply avoid thinking about it—after all, there’s nothing you can do about it, and you may not be comfortable talking about how to plan for death. But planning for death is one of the last and kindest gifts you can give to the people you love. Let’s talk about how to discuss your estate plan with your family, as well as your last wishes.

Discuss Your Estate Plan With Loved Ones

Having to have “the talk” is never easy, and there are various components of it: end of life questions, how you want your property distributed, and how to plan your funeral. There is often an easy, if unfortunate, introduction to the topic: the death of a friend, neighbor, or other family member.

You can begin the conversation with your loved ones by saying something along the lines of, “You know, since Mrs. Smith passed away, I’ve been thinking about the things you’ll need to know about my wishes someday. I hope that day will be a long way off, but I know it will be easier on you to not have to figure things out at such a hard time.”

You may get a little resistance; even if your children are adults with children of their own, it might be hard for them to think about a time when you won’t be around. You can make it easier by having an agenda prepared, including a binder or file of essential information.

Explain How You Have Organized Your Estate Documents

At the end of your life, your family is going to need a lot of information they may not be thinking about right now. They may need to know your end-of-life wishes, including what care you do and do not want and who you want to make decisions for you if you can’t make them for yourself. After your passing, they will need to prepare an obituary, plan a funeral or memorial service, and administer your estate or trust. And, of course, they won’t be able to ask you any of what they need to know.

Your children may not want to spend a lot of time paging through the materials you have prepared for them right now. But they will be incredibly grateful for them in the future. Make sure they know where to find the following:

  • Your advance directives for healthcare, such as a medical power of attorney and a living will.
  • Your health insurance information
  • Your long-term care insurance, if applicable
  • Durable financial powers of attorney
  • Information about “Do Not Resuscitate” orders
  • Your will and/or trust
  • Your personal information, including your birthdate and place of birth; your parents’ full names, and any other information needed to complete a death certificate and write an obituary
  • Bank, financial, and investment account information
  • A list of social media and other online accounts with passwords
  • Information needed to access safe deposit boxes, including their location
  • Motor vehicles, recreational vehicles, boats, and motorcycles, and any titles to those items
  • Any treasured personal property such as jewelry or collectibles, along with any appraisals of those items
  • Information about any debt you owe, including mortgages and credit card debt
  • Details of any business interests you own, including contact information for any business partners who would need to be notified of your death
  • Information needed to access any cryptocurrency you own
  • Any pre-planning you have done for your funeral and burial, such as the purchase of burial plots

Provide Detailed Instructions for Your Funeral

Before your family gets around to dealing with your estate, they will probably need to plan your funeral or memorial. That means they will need to know your wishes. Do you want to be buried or cremated? Are there any religious traditions it is important to you to observe? Does your family know how to contact your clergy? Do they know what funeral home you would want to use? Whom you would want as pallbearers or speakers at your service? Whether you would prefer flowers at your funeral or donations to a favorite charity? Where you would want to be buried, or your ashes scattered?

You may not have considered many of these questions yourself. If not, there’s no time like the present. By all means, talk about the answers to these questions with your children, but also write your wishes down; conversations can fade from memory, especially over the course of years. You can keep the document with your wishes together with any prepaid funeral planning documents. However, like your estate planning documents, these should not be kept in a safe deposit box. They should be kept in a safe place, but one that your loved ones can access immediately if needed.

The Benefits of Discussing Your End-Of-Life Wishes

There are two good reasons to have a conversation with your family about how to plan your death. The first is for their peace of mind. They will be less likely to argue amongst themselves about what you would have wanted, and be able to confidently plan a funeral, memorial, and burial that aligns with your wishes. Yes, they will be grieving, but they will be at peace with each other and able to focus on remembering you with love.

The second reason to help your family understand what to do when you die is, quite simply, so that your last wishes are honored. We recently heard a story about a woman who died without having discussed her wishes with her family. She had, late in life, converted to a religion which emphasized the importance of burial traditions and prohibited cremation. Unfortunately, her family was unfamiliar with her wishes and how important her religious traditions were to her. They declined to allow a funeral in her church and insisted on cremating her remains, despite her clergyman’s pleas.

If the thought of a similar outcome for yourself makes you unhappy, it’s time to have “the talk” with your adult children or close loved ones who will be handling your affairs. And if you are a loved one who is uncertain about your own parents’ wishes, here’s some guidance about how to talk about estate planning with your parents.

To learn more, please contact Gudorf Law Group to schedule a consultation.