If you were to die in the next ten minutes, are there things your surviving family members would need to know but would have no way of figuring out? Are there things that you would really want them to know? If your answer is yes, please read on.
For nearly four decades I worked in the Alaska oil industry. Most of my time was spent on the North Slope, although I worked in several other remote locations as well. All of those positions involved sharing a job on a shift rotation schedule with equal time off. Sharing a job in a high-stress work environment required extraordinary cooperation in learning how to assume responsibility for the actions of others and to communicate effectively.
As long as both parties were competent and sincere in their efforts to share accountability, the emphasis focused on communication skills. The end of one shift and the beginning of another, when alternates met to change places, was referred to as change-out day. Invariably, even with the best of intentions, change-out would occur with the employee who left the job having forgotten to share something important, something the person coming on shift would really need to know. This oversight was so common it was to be expected, in spite of two weeks of intensive note-taking and a concerted effort to cover everything that you thought the alternate would need to know. The forgetfulness often resulted in follow-up phone calls to the employee at home.
Keep this in mind and just try to imagine how many things could be overlooked when a person dies unexpectedly without having left any change-out notes. Every day thousands of people die from cardiac arrest, traffic collisions, and myriad accidents and ailments that leave no time for putting one’s affairs in order. The absence of effective communication leaves a gaping void that others must struggle to fill without any knowledge of the deceased’s intentions. The survivors will have infinite questions they wish they had asked, but the opportunity is forever lost.
In preparing for my final change-out, I’ve had a good example to follow in my grandfather, who was born in 1889 and died in 1982. He was sixteen years older than my grandmother, and when he reached his seventies, he began preparing my grandmother for his demise by frequently going over and over the things she needed to know and the things she would need to do when he passed away. Even so, there is still a great deal I would like to know about my grandparents, but it’s too late to ask. The opportunity is also lost for their great-great grandchildren to know as much as they could about their distant ancestors.
Death is a subject that most of us avoid for understandable reasons, but if you’ve ever been with someone who had to put the necessary pieces together after a family member has died unexpectedly, or if you’ve had this experience yourself, you know how hard it is to answer questions when there is no one left alive who can answer them.
Let me suggest a simple way to keep your data for yourself and your family, just in case this information is needed someday.
All of us know we should keep records, lists, and personal notes to keep our affairs in order, especially as we age and our memory becomes less reliable, but does anyone else have that information or know where to find it? Let me suggest a simple way to keep your data for yourself and your family, just in case this information is needed someday. Create a written file—it can be hand-written, on a computer, or even on a cell phone as long as those who should have the information know the file’s name and location and can attain access.
For many of us an easy way to do this might be to work on the data a few minutes every day, week, or month until the file is in good shape. It’s likely that you will always be a little behind and there will always be more things to add or details to update, but just imagine what a difference your change-out notes can make if they are needed someday.
Needless to say, security is of paramount importance with this kind of information and every effort should be made to make sure it cannot be hacked via malware or be subject to being read by anyone unauthorized to do so. One method you can use is to print a hard copy of the basic file, fill in the sensitive material by hand, and keep the copy under lock and key or simply save the file only on a thumb drive.
I’m offering my initial template list here to serve as a guide for your planning. As with any change-out, I’m sure I’ve forgotten some things, so I would very much appreciate your thoughts and suggestions based on your own experience. As the list improves over time, I will post updates.
Practical matters — location and pertinent details for the following:
- your will
- life insurance
- burial or cremation preferences and wishes
- Social Security number
- auto insurance
- driver’s license number
- health insurance
- hereditary medical history
- tax documents
- computer passwords
- A narrative about your computer files
- deeds, titles
- debts and payees
- bank accounts and investments
- preferred charities
- addresses and telephone numbers of people to notify
- personal property disposition
- photos and keepsakes
- an obituary draft or notes to include: education military service work history parents’ names career achievements proudest moments How you wish to be remembered
- your aspirations for others
- special things you would like to share
- favorite foods
- favorite colors
- favorite subjects
- fondest memories
- favorite movies
- favorite books, quotes, literary passages
- favorite music
- reading suggestions
- life lessons
- things you wish you had done
- apologies If you have a choice, where do you want to spend your last days—in a hospital or at home? With others around you or alone? What music would you like to hear? Would you want a visit from the clergy?
- Advance Directives
- Final wishes
- Living Will
- Durable Medical Power of Attorney
- Durable General Power of Attorney