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Why Everyone Needs a Death Plan

Thoughtful womanDeath can be scary to contemplate, there’s no denying that. But taking practical steps to prepare for it can actually make you feel more in control. By creating a death plan, you can also help ensure that your family is taken care of no matter what. Sallie Tisdale, author of ADVICE FOR FUTURE CORPSES (AND THOSE WHO LOVE THEM), shares why everyone needs a death plan.

We make a death plan because we can—for our own peace of mind, and as an act of compassion for the people nearest to us who will be left, quite literally, holding things.

Where and how do you want to die? Plan for your ideal. It could happen! You may prefer your own bedroom or a small cabin in the woods. Think about all the details. Do you like wind chimes? Do you like Judge Judy? Do you want to watch Duck Soup? Make a deathbed playlist (and don’t forget comedy). Do you want any religious services? Should religion be banned? Do you want to be touched, and by whom? How much solitude do you want? Who is not to be admitted?

And once you’ve made a lot of these decisions, choose one or two people to be the gatekeepers. Who is willing to turn Aunt Agatha away, play the Ramones at high volume, and dress you in that cunning miniskirt at the last moment?

Everyone needs a will, no matter how much they own. The will must be signed and witnessed and dated. Your will describes in detail the way your money is to be distributed and any specific bequests and donations. It should name an executor you trust to dispose of your body and your possessions as you ask. Does your will explain what should happen to your personal possessions? To whom do you want to leave photographs, works of art, letters, jewelry, and diaries? Is there anything you want destroyed? What happens to your prize roses, your lingerie, and the old family photos? Many authors have declared that unfinished manuscripts, journals, and notes should be destroyed. Terry Pratchett declared that the hard drive holding his unfinished books was to be smashed by a steamroller, and so it was done.

You might write letters to your family members and friends and put them in the same folder. They don’t need to be long or fancy letters; just say goodbye and maybe add a little advice or encouragement. Write new letters every year. You may want to compose your obituary.

Don’t forget pets. Don’t forget outstanding bills, automatic payments, online accounts and passwords, and all the people who need to know you died. Remember electronic dating profiles, Second Life avatars, the bridge club, the gym, and the dentist. Who can get access to your calendar? If you are someone else’s health care representative, include that information in your death plan, because they need to find someone else now. Who has access to your checking accounts, brokerage accounts, and safe deposit box? (Is your will in your safe deposit box? Bad place for it.)

If you are a professional who keeps confidential records—a teacher, therapist, lawyer, accountant, minister—do you have a written plan for how to handle those records? Do you have a list of clients to contact and a partner to take over your appointments? Who pays the bills and does the books for the business? Think about office keys, passwords, file cabinets, and storage units. …

Give copies to your physician, executor, family members, health care representatives, lawyer, and religious teacher. 

You can find an example of a death plan and more practical perspectives on death and dying in the book ADVICE FOR FUTURE CORPSES by Sallie Tisdale.

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Plus: None of us is immortal, so why are we all in denial about death?

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Excerpted from Advice for Future Corpses (And Those Who Love Them) by Sallie Tisdale. Copyright © 2018 by Sallie Tisdale. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.

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