Having our end-of-life affairs in order is more than just a good idea for tomorrow. Expressing our wishes and leaving the state of our stuff organized is actually a gift to your loved ones.
Sixteen years ago I was a floral designer making the floral arrangement for my grandfather’s casket, as one last way to say goodbye. I helped my grandmother make phone calls, sort through his things, and reminded her to rest and eat.
Two years later I found myself caring for a man in my home with cancer, trying my best to comfort him until his very last breath. This man shared his wisdom with me. How he spent his life focused on all the wrong things.
Three years went by, and my grandmother suddenly passed away at my mother’s house. And I was there then too. I helped my mother call family and friends, make funeral arrangements, and sort through her possessions and papers.
I do not share this to have you think I did anything extraordinary. Simply, these experiences changed me. My perspective. And my priorities.
As I look back, I wish I had done some things better—isn’t that the case for most of us? But because of these painful experiences, I have learned ways to love deeper and live more intentional for tomorrow.
Applying a minimalist filter to my life has helped me immensely across every area of my life. I learned through those experiences it’s possible to leave your family one last gift. The gift of having your affairs in order. Through the process I learned these steps:
1. Simplify your possessions with a prudent perspective.
Ask yourself what truly adds value to your life in your home—with the forethought that someone you love will be left to take care of it. If it’s difficult to let go of things because you can’t find a good home for them, consider the fact that leaving them in your home won’t change the fate of your stuff. It will all have to go somewhere, someday.
2. Make a living will.
A living will, also know as an Advance Health Care Directive, allows an appointed person to make life-saving medical decisions on your behalf should you become unable. Expressing your wishes in writing can lift the burden off family members to make difficult decisions on your behalf.
3. Make a last will and testament.
A Last Will and Testament allows you to communicate your wishes as to how you want your property to be distributed. Having one in place provides peace for you and also makes things easier for the people you care about. Legal Zoom has good resources and tools to make a basic will.
For parents of young children, making a will is more than just divvying up your property. A last will is the single most important thing you can do to make sure your child is cared for by the people you choose should anything happen to you.
4. Appoint a digital executor.
Many of us have a sizable digital footprint— photos, music, and other digital files as well as social media accounts. Appoint a Digital Executor for all your computer files, personal online accounts, and photos and videos. Choose someone in your life you’d trust with your personal digital property, and who you believe would be able to follow your wishes to distribute, archive, or erase your personal digital property.
5. Consider funeral and legacy planning.
Planning our funeral is something many choose to avoid altogether. My grandmother, unbeknownst to our family, pre-planned her funeral and I was thankful knowing her wishes were carried out. It was one less big decision to be made during such a time of grief.
6. Create a Binder(s) For Your Records.
Placing all your important records in a binder makes it simple to find what you need when you need it. Let the executor of your last will know where to find important documents too.
Just before my husband’s first deployment after we married, he made a binder filled with all our essential papers that we kept in a fire safe box. It provided me peace of mind!
Here is a list of records you may want to include in the binder.
Social security card
Memberships in groups
Names and phone numbers of relatives, close friends, doctors, lawyers and financial advisors.
Medication taken regularly
Location of other essential documents if they are separate.
Copy of most recent tax return
Sources of income and assets. (Pension, 401(k)s, IRA’s, etc.)
Insurance information with policy numbers and contact info.
Names of your banks and account numbers
Car title and registration
Statement from each account. (utilities, phone, etc..)
7. Decide if you wish to be an organ donor.
My grandmother was an organ donor. She was a compassionate woman who continually showed me that giving is living— even after she left this earth. You can learn more about organ donation at organdonor.gov.
8. Write a letter.
Consider the value of leaving your loved one a love letter. What words would you want your partner or child to remember? What would you want to say to them? Are there things you try to and wish you told them every day?
Although I hope to grow ancient with my children, I have written a letter for each of my young children — how much joy they bring and how deeply they are loved. Words of affirmation, reminding them to be who they were made to be.
No one wants to talk about getting old, ill or dying—obviously. Our mortality (and planning it) is often an unspoken worry. Roughly 55% of Americans are living with that unspoken worry, with no advance directives (wills and other estate planning) in place.
I’m not an estate planner but I do know this; making a plan that helps your loved ones cope with your loss is a gift to them and peace for you.
Young or older, minimalism with your affairs in order can support your journey to live more intentional, centered on what truly matters.