By Alecia Rice
Q: I’m an only child. Mom’s aging and not in the best health. When I think of her passing, I get overwhelmed—not only with the heartbreak of it—but also the thought of dealing with her possessions and important paperwork because she’s terribly unorganized. Any advice on making this easier? — Thinking Ahead
A: Dear Thinking Ahead,
Due to the importance, size and scope required for organization, this could be a great intention to fulfill this year. It’s said that it can take from one to two years to wrap up the loose ends when a loved one passes. Therefore, having sensitive conversations early—along with action—can ease our process later on.
Organizing the energy accumulation of life with forethought makes the path easier with the creation of something called an “End of Life File,” “Death Box,” or “Transition Trove.” This is a file that can be stored in a safe, filing cabinet or a digital file on the cloud. It can be a beautiful, ornate box or a shoebox listing instructions and providing information. The container doesn’t matter as much as the intention.
Regardless of one’s age, most important is to gather together all of the most important information from one’s life, clearly labeled in one place that can be easily located when we pass over. We think about wills and hard copy documents while often overlooking items related to our digital lives like cell phones and social media accounts which can be even more difficult to deal with due to privacy issues, passwords and layers of security. Collecting these items in one place can save huge amounts of time, inconvenience and aggravation in the future when our hearts may be grieving and processing our loss.
Some things to consider pulling together for your box:
Copies of living and ethical wills, (Medical) Power of Attorney, life insurance and insurance policies, birth/death certificates, marriage/divorce and prenuptial paperwork, as well as Social Security information.
Names, account numbers, PINs for checking and savings accounts, loans and debts, mortgages, credit cards, investments and utility bills, as well as funeral home paperwork for pre-purchased burial arrangements. Names of loved ones can be proactively added to accounts as joint owners to ease future interactions.
Titles and Keys
Car titles, house deeds, labeled keys for safe deposit boxes, safe combinations/keys, cars, houses and vacation homes.
Sentimental Items and Heirlooms
Create lists with pictures, where items are stored, the stories behind them so they’re not forgotten, and who they go to, if not listed in the will.
Logins, passwords, and/or PINs for computers, social media, cellphones, email accounts, as well as personal/business websites. Personal password vaults are an excellent place to store info all in the same place; one merely needs the master password.
Important business cards, updated lists of phone numbers and email addresses for family and close friends who need to be notified.
Journals, letters to loved ones, sentimental items, specific instructions for pets or people, pre-written obituaries, information such as preferred songs, readings, prayers, and preferences for the memorial service.
As far as belongings go, someone can be hired to come in to sell excess estate items short of what’s being given away. Having an experienced outsider perform this task is often easiest as they guide the process with questions and instructions that can help dilute the emotional confusion and overwhelm.
Have a gentle conversation with your mom telling her that you’re gathering your important life documents and would also like to help her do the same. Suggest that you take baby steps together by meeting occasionally to complete this very important task. While doing so, discuss some of the finer, more intimate topics related to life and death, which will help you better understand each other. Make these times pleasant and special by doing something social like going out to dinner and a movie afterward as a reward.
Once completed, both of you may feel a huge sense of accomplishment knowing that you were responsible and accountable to loved ones by taking the time to complete a not-so-pleasant task that many never follow through with. Those left behind often wish they had, as unfinished emotional business often wedges family fractures into chasms as arguments arise about how to handle sensitive subjective issues during deeply emotional and stressful times. This is a way of caring for our families making things easier on them after we’re gone.
I suggest saving and sharing this column with others as a guideline for future reference.
Alecia Rice integrates higher concepts with wisdom to bring forth balance, perspective and clarity. She’s a personal advisor, speaker and gatherer of women. For perspective on life issues, you’re invited to text questions and comments to 681-321-1109. Discussions continue at Ask Alecia on Facebook.