While not the most exhilarating topic to think about, having a detailed list of what to do when a loved one passes can bring great comfort during a time of deep grief and stress. Also, this kind of checklist is also valuable during life as a guide for what things to keep up to date... just in case. Click the image below to view and/or download the checklist.
As you will see, the list is 6 pages long. Let's break this up into it's two most obvious uses.
Planning at Death
The direct intention, as the title says, is for this to serve as a checklist once a family member or other close loved one has passed. While no list can ever be truly comprehensive in every situation, I believe most things are covered and, the good news is, some things will not apply and can be immediately checked off.
The best thing about this list is the way it is broken into time frames. The death of a spouse or other loved one ranks among the highest of stressful life events, making it the worst time to deal with an endless string of details, yet that's the job. Breaking the list into what needs doing now, this week, this month, the next 3 months, etc. is helpful in taking the needed steps at the needed time without totally putting one on overload. One caveat to this nice segmenting of duties... some things might need addressing sooner that stated depending on circumstances. For instance, a death later in the year might necessitate making tax-related decisions sooner. For example, for the late-year death of an IRA owner who is already taking Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs), any outstanding RMDs will need to be taken by December 31.
Another tip at the beginning of the list is to get the assistance of a family member or close friend. This can help with breaking up responsibilities and/or simply having another set of eyes and hands to provide help and wise counsel.
Of course, the level of ease or difficulty in navigating these items will be partly determined by how much planning occurred before death, which leads us to the other use of the checklist.
Planning Before Death
While none of us will ever remove all difficulties of others dealing with our death, or disability, we can go a long way in making it less stressful by planning ahead of time. The biggies to do before leaving earth or becoming incapacitated are:
- Having a valid will (and maybe a trust), advance medical directive and power of attorney in place.
- COMMUNICATING these plans to those responsible for carrying them out. A will or trust document that cannot be located will do you and your loved ones no good.
- Making funeral arrangements, or at least communicating key elements, such as do you want to be buried or cremated and what type of funeral would you like.
- Having professional advisors (attorney, accountant, financial planner) in place that understand your planning.
Frankly, it's hard to know where to draw the line between really important and less so. Hence, the value of the checklist as a lifetime planning tool. There are things that you might not otherwise think of, such as that online subscription to ________ that no one would ever know about unless it is in a list of online accounts and passwords. And, as you think through some of these things, you may decide you don't really need that subscription anyway and save a few bucks!
I have shared this list several times in the last few years. Those that have used it have found it to be very helpful in a difficult time. They have also provided valuable feedback on things that need updating depending on their specific circumstances and the evolving digital environment in which we live. I am thankful to those that have provided that feedback and would welcome any recommended revisions so that others might benefit.
Any information presented here is general in nature, believed to be reliable as of the date published and is not intended to be and should not be taken as legal, tax, investment or individual financial planning advice. Competent, licensed professionals should be consulted when implementing any kind of financial, estate, tax or investment strategy.