Last year, my wife and I were among the first responders to a helicopter crash. Although we couldn’t do much to help at the scene, our conversation afterward prompted me to help in another way.
I would like to speak plainly about a topic many of us prefer to avoid – death. It’s no secret death will eventually come for us all. If you know a way around that, please call and I’ll send you a big check. But the secret of life doesn’t lie in avoiding death, rather it is in embracing life itself.
There are things you can do to make that event less painful for those you care about. Being prepared for death is not just for old people like me nor is it something you should put off for even one more day. You owe it to your friends, coworkers and families. You should not pass Go or collect your $200 without becoming prepared.
The key simply is to be organized. Gather your important documents into one consolidated location, and ensure that everyone knows where that location is. I personally suggest either a safety deposit box or a fireproof/waterproof document safe labeled with something easily understood, such as, “Open in case of death.” Purchase a safe large enough to contain your entire family’s critical documents, and you’ll never have to search long for them.
You might consider consulting a lawyer, the Judge Advocate General’s Corps or an estate-planning firm. But most of your documents should include the basics. These would be last will and testaments, trusts, living wills, powers of attorney, beneficiary documents and master estate information. Other basics are a physical items inventory, bank account and assets information, debtor and credit card lists, mortgage and loan information, insurance policies, tax returns and password lists. Don’t forget military and Veterans Administration benefit records, Servicemembers Group Life Insurance, birth certificates, contact and membership list, passports and funeral/executor instructions.
Choose your executor carefully. He or she should be someone who will not allow difficult emotions to affect decision-making and be someone you trust with your assets even while you’re still alive. Review and update your documents yearly or whenever you have a life-changing event. Send copies of your will to your executor or keep them secured in a safe.
Additionally, I suggest that you plainly list your last wishes, such as where and how you wish to be interred, anything specific like songs or poems you want at your funeral, your final words for those who attend and your obituary. Do not leave your family unarmed to make these difficult decisions; arm them with the knowledge of exactly what you want.
Yes, I did just suggest that you write your own obituary. Why not? Consider it as a chance to write your own legacy and find out how you want to be remembered. If this doesn’t make sense to you, just imagine your grieving spouse trying to describe your life only hours after being told you’re not coming home for dinner. Do not do that to your spouse.
With a pencil in hand, take a few more moments to express your love for those you are leaving. It’s been well more than 20 years since I wrote my first good byes. Putting my feelings and final farewells on paper reminded me to live and love every day, not just on my final days. Write that letter to your family so they will know how much you cared and what they truly meant to you. Give them something by which to remember you and something to carry with them throughout the rest of their lives. I promise that the time spent pouring out your soul will not be a wasted exercise.
Lastly, be right with your family, friends and your God. Not just some times, but all the time. Take every moment to show them how much you care. That alone might make you a better person more worthy of that grand obituary you just wrote.
More than anything else, live your life so well that the only thing left to say at your memorial is Amen.