Caregiving

How to Die Organized: Ten Tips

Sara Suchy Sep 27, 2012 (updated May 6, 2014)
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The death of a loved one is an emotionally taxing time. Much of the stress can be taken out of the immediate aftermath if the loved one's wishes are explicitly spelled out well in advance. A little prior planning and open communication can ease much of the burden off the surviving family so that healing can begin.

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Update your will
Update your will
Have an up-to-date Will on hand and it will save your family from countless headache both immediately after a death and years down the road.  Depending on the particular circumstance, it can be a good idea to hire a lawyer or other legal professional to help prepare a will. You will also need to establish an executor for your will.  This person is responsible for ensuring that your wishes are fulfilled.
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Plan your funeral
Plan your funeral
Specify funeral arrangement in detail to save the surviving family and executor from attempting to guess what kind of service their loved one would want and avoid disagreements among family members. Also, specify what you would like to happen to your body after your death including if you would like to be an organ and tissue donor.  Be sure your doctor and family members are aware of your wishes.
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Leave a list
Leave a list
Compile and save the contact information of anyone involved in the care of a loved one.  This list should include doctors - including specialists - lawyers, accountants, clergy or religious leaders, caregivers outside the family and anyone else who would need to be involved and would not be among the first people informed of a loved one's death. 
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Identify vaults, accounts and passwords
Identify vaults, accounts and passwords
Along with a list of doctors, lawyers and accountants compile a list of bank accounts, bank vaults and lock boxes as well as the necessary means to access them (passwords, combinations, keys).  It is also a good idea to leave user names and passwords to any email, social media or other online accounts a loved one may need to access.
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House deeds and car titles
House deeds and car titles
Gather together and organize any deeds to house(s), automobile(s) and any other proof of ownership documents that a family member may need. Similarly, remember to compile a list of bank accounts, investments and investment portfolios and any other financial or ownership documents. Documents to gather: Checking and savings accounts, investments, retirement fund, house deed(s), car title(s).
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Instructions for valuables
Instructions for valuables
Compile detailed instructions on how your valuables should be distributed and to whom, or not to whom.  Remember that this can be an especially sensitive topic depending on the nature of the valuables and personalities within the family.  Be as detailed as possible to avoid any misinterpretation of your wishes and be sure to have a conversation with the executor of your estate to explicitly spell out your wishes.
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Take care of pets
Take care of pets
If pets are in the picture, be sure to specify exacty how they will be taken care of and by whom.  It is very wise to talk with the prospective pet caretaker before you designate them to ensure he or she is willing and prepared for the responsibility. 
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Share your feelings
Share your feelings
Write down everything you've ever wanted to say to your loved ones and relatives but never had the chance.  Organize your thoughts in whatever format you'd like but some ideas may be small hand-written notes, a longer note to several people or even a video or audio recording.  Whatever the format, be sincere. 
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Ask for help
Ask for help
Planning for death is emotionally exhausting work.  It may be helpful to enlist some assistance either from trusted online resources, a good book or two on the subject or from a close and trusted friend or family member.  Remember that ultimately, what happens to you and your belongings after you die is your choice.  Use the resources you need as guides, not directives. 
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Notification list
Notification list
Family members and friends will naturally inform each other when a death occurs.  But, people do fall through the cracks and sometimes people are overlooked.  Compile a list of people that should be notified of your death and what their relationship is to you.  It may also be helpful to prioritize the list if it is extensive.