Preventing Confusion in the Face of Crisis: Getting Your Final Affairs Together

planning final affairs

Proactive planning and candid discussion can make a world of difference for your children or loved ones when they are faced with the daunting and emotionally draining task of orchestrating your funeral and settling your final affairs. Considering the grief, heartache, and accompanying confusion that come with the loss of a loved one, it’s really in your best interest to make sure that your family or a close friend is aware of both your final wishes and conclusive legal/financial matters.

Dying intestate, or without a last will and testament, can cause severe family conflict when family members disagree about how to proceed with disposition of your personal effects, how to handle financial matters that will arise, or funeral and burial decisions. Even more trivial matters, like the music to be played at the funeral service or which photos to display, can be enough to incite arguments and discord.  Having a last will and testament allows you to dictate exactly who might receive what belongings or shall receive any financial inheritance, and it also allows you to be the creative director and event planner for your own funeral.

Your last will and testament can be very brief, or it can be a lengthy document, based on your desires. A last will and testament is a legal document and must be carried out as you have stated upon your death. Having an updated last will and testament in place is one way you can help your loved ones by taking any indecision out of the conversation. You should update your last will and testament at least once a year in order to make sure that it still meets your needs. It’s not uncommon to have an ex-spouse or even a deceased family member noted as the Executor because the document was not kept up to date.

Another unfortunate commonality when someone passes is when documents, passwords, or keys are missing or unknown. Next to having a last will and testament, being sure that at least one trusted person knows exactly where to find important documents will be vitally important in reducing the administrative burden on your Executor.  Legal or financial papers, funeral home contracts, life and medical insurance policies, and other personal identification records all may be needed in the days following your death, so they should be organized in a way that will make it easy for your family or trusted friend to find particular documents as they are asked to do so.

You might want to have a specific file folder or drawer that holds photocopies of any important documents, and keep the originals locked elsewhere for safekeeping. Another simple method is to maintain a binder with identification tabs that make organization and updates quick and foolproof.

If you use a fireproof box, safe, locked cabinet, or even a safe deposit box in a financial institution, it’s crucial that someone knows where to locate the key or the combination. Although a locksmith can be called in an emergency, there are times where conflicts between two remaining parties may require that a court order be obtained to gain entry into a locked box or safe. This can result in unnecessary delays and cost that could easily be avoided.

Admittedly, conversations about death and dying can be difficult and emotional. Despite this, candid conversations can clear the air and create a level of deeper understanding between you and your loved ones while ensuring that your wishes are fulfilled as closely as possible after you pass.

Choosing someone to coordinate or execute your affairs when you die is an important decision not to be taken lightly. Choose someone your trust fully, even if that means your choice is not a direct family member. This individual will need to have access to and will be handling your most personal details, so you should take your time with this decision. Speak openly and be clear about your choices while encouraging questions and discussion.

If organizing your documents or thinking about having a last will and testament prepared seems overwhelming, relax and ask for help. Family and friends are often willing to help organize and maintain information that will be needed in the future. Local Senior Care or Community Centers, Church Groups, Area Agencies on Aging, Cancer Support Centers, agencies like AARP (American Agency of Retired Persons), or your personal attorney are all good resources to explore for assistance on making final preparations.

If you are faced with any type of disorder that may impede your decision making capabilities as time progresses, be sure to address this important task without delay. Include your Living Will or other End of Life or Long Term care decisions when compiling your documents to be sure that the care you receive is the care you agree with and consent to.

Planning ahead and making decisions early will help you release anxiety about what will happen after you die. Your family and loved ones will be able to respect your wishes knowing that they are honoring your requests, and you’ll be showing how much you care for them by easing their emotional burden, even from the afterlife.

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