When facing the inevitable, it may help to take time to deal with the practical details beforehand.
Few things are as sad and traumatic as the death of a loved one. From the loss itself, to the ways it can impact you physically and emotionally, to navigating the logistic and financial complexities that come with it, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. And when it comes to talking about death, it can be as awkward beforehand as it is difficult afterward.
Talking with family along with friends and professional advisors, however, can be the key to preparing as much as you can and getting through the inevitable with as little upheaval as possible.
But just how do you approach a loved one with the subject of their death? And where do you go from there? Perhaps first consider how you would want everything handled, and then start the conversation from that perspective.
Start Small, Go Slow
Like many endeavors, it’s often good to start small and be patient.
Put it on the radar. Rather than sitting down for a heavy talk, try simply mentioning the subject and see how it goes. You might even break the ice with gentle humor: “You know, at some point we could consider chatting about the big scary death thing.” Remember, this can be a series of conversations.
Meet them where they are. Death is emotional and its effects are complicated. When your loved one is ready to talk, get a sense of what’s top of mind for them. Is it unsolved relationship issues? Finances? Legal hurdles to address? Listen for cues, and you’ll find the appropriate starting point. From there, the rest of the dialogue should come naturally.
The Gift of Planning
Once the conversation has begun, everyone will soon start to feel more comfortable. And while certain topics can be difficult, it will be apparent that working through them and being on the same page will pay emotional dividends later on.
Beyond family. Once you’ve gotten a little more comfortable, encourage your loved one to share pertinent details with their family attorney, accountant and financial advisor who can help fill in any blanks and help ensure as smooth a transition as possible when the time comes. From reviewing beneficiaries and titles to make sure they align with the will, to practical matters like having access to liquid cash, to making decisions without liquidating assets or waiting for life insurance proceeds, the details become easier with professional guidance.
Wills and trusts. Everyone needs a will to express the desired transfer of financial and tangible assets. If desired, encourage your loved one to work with professionals to help document their wishes accurately. For some, a trust may be appropriate to help dictate how assets are distributed, while keeping affairs confidential by avoiding probate.
Letters and proxies. Not everything is covered by a will, so ask your loved one if they’d like to write a personal letter to communicate any additional wishes. It can be a way for them to share their values, life lessons and faith with the next generation. It’s also important that they designate a durable power of attorney – someone who can be trusted to handle financial business and make healthcare decisions on a person’s behalf.
Living wills. This advanced care directive specifies how someone wants healthcare providers to handle their life-sustaining treatment and end-of-life care in the event they cannot do so themselves.
Funerals and obituaries. Everyone has a different idea of what they want when it comes to final respects. Some prefer celebrations, while others want solemn occasions or even creative gatherings. Regardless, listen to what your loved one desires and perhaps help research costs and make arrangements in advance.
Security codes and passwords. When someone passes away, survivors will need documented information to access or shut down a variety of personal and financial accounts.
It’ll be important to surround yourself with love and support after the loss. Conventional wisdom suggests holding off on major decisions and taking at least a year to heal. However, certain practical matters will likely arise and need attention during this time. With help and professional guidance, tasks that seem daunting can be accomplished gracefully and peacefully.
Let people know. Make those you know aware of the loss. Reach out to family, friends and spiritual counselors for emotional support.
Confirm final arrangements. Contact the funeral home to confirm or clarify your loved one’s planned services. If you need clarification yourself, look to the will or personal letters for instructions.
Ample certificates. It is recommended you get two to three dozen original copies of the death certificate from the county where the death occurred. One will be needed for every account relating to the estate, as well as one to forward the person’s mail from the post office.
Time off and childcare. If you’re able to, take time off work – many companies offer bereavement leave for the loss of close loved ones. Keep the little ones in mind, too; they’ll need support and possibly childcare as you deal with the details and services.
As a practical matter, although this may be a difficult discussion to have for all parties, the time to create a plan is now, while everyone has the opportunity to contribute fully to helping ease the painful transition in the future. As you work through your loved one’s wishes, consider your own planning needs. While planning for death and its aftermath can be somber and uncomfortable, it’s never too early to start talking.
Sources: Raymondjames.com; caregiverslibrary.org; nextavenue.org; psychcentral.com