End of Life Etiquette

I get it, no one really wants to think about dying or make preparations to do so. It’s scary to think about and a little bit overwhelming, but if you don’t do it, you are just making it that much harder for your next of kin to deal with. And at a time when they are already going to be grieving terribly and not really capable of making clear decisions. I’m not going to go far as to say that doing all of this is clearly within the bounds of etiquette, but foisting tasks you find unpleasant onto others is surely impolite so we’re going to go with it.

Obviously, this all doesn’t have to be done at once. When you are young, single, and have few assets, it is pretty simple that everything just goes to your parents. As you acquire things and spouses and children, you should add additional documentation about your wishes. As your children become adults or it becomes clear that you won’t be having children and need to appoint a next of kin, you need to make sure your kids/key person is aware of where everything is and how to access it.

First- make a will. Once you have acquired enough stuff to leave behind, you should decide who you want to have it if you do not want the state to decide. Take the time to appoint an executor, who will be in charge of making sure everything gets done as you wish. Update it as your life changes.

When you have minor children, you need to appoint a caretaker for them in the event of your premature demise. You should probably also discuss it with that person so they don’t get *surprise* kids.

Decide what you want to happen if you become ill and incapacitated. If you have strong feelings on say, pulling the plug vs not, or especially as you get to the REALLY old stage, things like DNR (do not resuscitate) orders, make sure you state them clearly. Appoint someone who knows and respects your wishes to act as Power of Attorney and Medical Power of Attorney  and outline those wishes in a living will. Become an organ donor, if you wish.

Get organized! Make sure you have some kind of list or file of all your:

  • Credit cards and bank accounts
  • Insurance policies (especially life insurance!)
  • All pensions/IRAs/other retirement funds
  • All important documents: wills, living wills, powers of attorney, birth certificates, marriage certificates, social security cards, citizenship records, military records (Veterans can get some pretty nice stuff for their funeral), etc
  • Paperwork for major assets: your cars and house if you have them
  • Major debts- credit cards, mortgage, student loans so your executor can pay them off
  • Make copies of everything! If you die in a plane crash and all your credit cards go with you, how is your next of kin supposed to get the numbers?

If you have a lot of money and assets, talk to a financial planner about organizing a trust, or setting up special school accounts for grandkids and the like.

In the digital age, it’s also important that someone have access to all your social media accounts so they can close them or memorialize them. If you are part of an online community, wouldn’t it be nice if someone were able to tell them that you had died and not just stopped logging on? Of course, there is an app for that- If I Die sends out a message of your choosing if you die.

Plan what happens to your body and the kind of funeral you want to have. Do you want to donate your body to science? Become a crash test dummy? Do you wanted a traditional burial, cremation, natural burial? There are so many options these days! If you have strong feelings, you need to make them known. If you want a burial plot somewhere particular, you should purchase it in advance. Do you want special music played at the funeral? Special food served? Make sure someone knows!

With a little planning and foresight, a difficult time for your most cherished family and friends will be a little bit smoother and easier. And isn’t smoothing relationships part of what etiquette is all about?


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