One of my clients, on a recent trip to San Francisco, visited the King Tut exhibit. She said it made her wonder whether the ancient Egyptians gave so much attention to the afterlife that they never got around to living their lives. Their culture seemed almost obsessed with preparing for death.
Our culture, on the other hand, seems to believe death is something we shouldn’t talk about or think about. Even when we do estate planning, we tend to avoid the details of death itself.
Maybe the ancient Egyptians had a point. I’m certainly not saying it’s a good idea to focus on death instead of living life. Still, making some plans around the end of life can be extremely helpful for our families.
I’ve written several times over the years about the importance of making a will and keeping it up to date. That is the most basic component of estate planning. In addition, there are many other aspects of preparing for death that can be important.
One of these is preparing an ethical will. This most commonly takes the form of a letter or video to children or other family members. It can be an opportunity to share your values, express your love, and summarize what has been most important in your life.
It is also useful to think about your wishes around such end-of-life decisions about whether you want cremation or burial, where you want to be buried or what you want done with your ashes, whether you want to be an organ donor, and what you want your funeral to be like.
Another aspect of death planning is making sure your executor has all the necessary information such as details of your insurance policies, bank accounts, and investments.
More information is available through teleclasses we have done on ethical wills, living wills, and funeral planning.
Some time ago, after we had done a teleclass on funeral planning, I received an email from a reader. His father had died unexpectedly a few months earlier, and he told me how much he and his brother had appreciated the planning his father had done.
This wise man had made a “death folder.” In it were the following:
1. A copy of his will.
2. A list of what he wanted done with various personal effects. (Such a list can prevent family conflicts. It’s important to update it periodically.)
3. A letter to his children containing some information he wanted to be sure they knew.
4. Details on financial information his executor would need, such as his bank accounts, credit cards, and insurance policies. (Such a list should also include contact information for advisors such as attorneys, accountants, and financial planners.)
5. Information on a burial plot he had already purchased.
6. A description of his wishes for his funeral and burial arrangements.
7. Documents from his military service so the family could include military honors at the funeral. (This is the kind of detail many people don’t think of ahead of time.)
Having this information easily accessible, and having so many decisions already made, was a tremendous help for family members. It made it easier for them to get through a very difficult emotional time.
To the ancient Egyptians, preparing for life after death apparently meant making sure the deceased would have everything they needed to spend eternity in comfort. For us, it might be more useful to see preparing for life after death as providing for those who live on after our deaths. Making sure they have everything they need to manage the end-of-life details is a thoughtful and loving final gift.