Look, you might be 22 or 42, but there are some things you should think about even if you think it’s premature or “I’ll get to that later.” While it’s a morbid topic for some, it’s one that’s important enough that I have to write about at least once. That topic is your own death, and planning for it.
I think it’s natural human nature to not want to talk about our own deaths, or think about them. Most of us certainly don’t give such a thing a moment’s thought if we’re under 30. As we hit 30, though, usually our life starts to change. We get married, we have children, we settle in for a long-term career. And our Ford Escorts get replaced by Honda Accords, we move from an apartment to a house, and we start accumulating other kinds of assets we may have never dreamed of. People start to depend on us and look to us for financial security. So while it may be natural to think all of this may end one day (and sometimes, it ends quite unexpectedly), it is our responsibility to try to make the time as painless as possible for our loved ones. Here’s a few quick LifeTips to get you started.
Make out a Will
If you do only one single thing regarding your own death, this is it.
Most people don’t bother with a will and most families go through that often-trying process only once before making out their own. Why? Because your estate will be tied up in the state’s own probate process without a will. Your estate, even if it’s not much, will go wherever your state’s laws say it will. Lived with a person for 10 years, but never got married? Guess how much they will get in most states? Nada. Zilch. Believe that if you die and are married with children, everything goes to your spouse, who will take care of the children? Nope. Each child in most states will get their own account, and in some states, the money can be divided up equally. Which means that if you have four kids, your spouse will only get 1/5th of the estate (while he or she is left managing the four individual accounts of the children).
Will are far simpler than most people imagine, you can even purchase do-it-yourself will kits in office supply stores or online from legal sources. Prices can range from $50-100, and most attorneys don’t charge all that much more to help you with a legal will. It took us about 10 minutes to decide where we wanted the money to go in case one of us died, or we both died together. The lawyer took care of the rest.
The other reason a will is important is that you can specify how you’d like your body to be taken care of — whether you’d like to be buried (and all the things that go along with a burial), or cremated. It is also important — to set your family’s expectations and not have any surprises after your death — to share and discuss these choices with your family beforehand. You wouldn’t want your significant other, for instance, start planning a funeral when you had actually specified a cremation and no ceremony.
Share Your Account Information
One person often does all of the bills and is responsible for the financial information in the household. If that person dies, the other person is often left wondering — what’s the password for the bank account?
Don’t leave them wondering. Write the account information, website URLs, login usernames and passwords (and security phrases) all on a piece of paper and store it in one of two locations — your own personal safe deposit box (assuming you both have your own), and/or a non-obvious place in your home (not a safe or lock-box). Let your significant other and at least one other family member (or your lawyer, in case both people in a relationship pass away in an accident or the like) know where you’re storing that information now. Don’t put it off.
In many states, the state may have the bank block or delay access to a joint safe deposit box (especially if you haven’t done Tip 1!), so this works best if you both have your own separate safe deposit boxes. Safe deposit boxes are a secure place to store such information. Why not place this list in a safe or lock-box in your home, to keep it secure? Because when a thief breaks into your home, they have limited time to access your valuables and get out before getting anxious about law enforcement showing up. They generally don’t have the time to be looking throughout your entire house for random items of importance. So look to store such a list in a non-obvious place, such as:
- If you have hundreds of books, placing a piece of paper like a bookmark in one of them is unlikely to be readily discovered
- A filing cabinet with dozens of other, non-financial files
- A shoebox where you keep keepsakes and holiday cards
- A photo album
- A recipe box
- In the refrigerator or freezer
- A high school yearbook
Obviously this is not an exhaustive list, but should give you some ideas to get you started.
Go over the list with your significant other before stashing it away, so both of you understand what’s on the list, how it works, and answer any questions that one may have about it. To offer a level of security in case an errant child or visitor to your home stumbles upon it, consider using phrases to give hints about but obscure the actual password (e.g., “blau6001!!” might equal “Your favorite color + my PIN!!, except spelled in the special way.”)
Resist the Urge to Use Technology to Manage Sensitive Information
I can’t emphasize this enough — try to avoid any fancy computer-based programs to store this information. Putting such sensitive information on a computer, even encrypted, assumes so much knowledge about the future (e.g., it might be 50 years before this information needs to be accessed) and requires constantly updating the program and technology used to ensure it keeps up with the ever-changing computer times. For instance, an encryption program you use today on Windows XP may not be available, in any form, 40 years from now. Just think of the difficulty of trying to even use a program written 15 or 20 years ago today. In some cases, it’s virtually impossible.
Don’t ever store this or any sensitive financial information in clear text on a computer or in your webmail account. Computers are generally not secure enough to ensure such information would remain safe, nor is your webmail account, which is readily accessible if you stay logged in (as many people do), by system administrators, and others responsible for maintaining such services.
Tell Your Family
If you’ve made out a will, you’ve done something many people don’t even do before they die. If you furthermore ensure your estate or family knows how to access your financial accounts, you’re significantly ahead of the game. Now all that’s left to do is to share this valuable information with members of your family, such as your significant other and at least one other person who you’d specify as an executor of your estate (in case both you and your significant other perish in the same accident). The more your immediate family knows of your intentions and plans surrounding your passing, the easier and less stressful it’ll be when the time comes (because nothing will be a surprise).
For instance, I have a friend who’s specified cremation and a party be thrown in her honor. She wisely has informed her family of her decisions now, so when the time comes, no one will be surprised or think it in poor taste that she wanted a party thrown in her honor, to help her family and friends remember her as the vibrant, lively and spirited person she was.