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Ways of Seeing: Gray days are a good time for making plans

It’s early March, when the gray skies and “mixed precipitation” always put me into a restless and dreary state of mind. Seems like a good time to augment the mood by writing about death.
Until now, I have succumbed to the cultural taboo against talking about death or preparing for death. It’s morbid. It’s sad. Nobody wants to hear it. If you talk about dying, it might happen! I don’t want to think about it. So I haven’t.
But if my husband and I both died suddenly, our three children would be in a real mess. They probably couldn’t get access to our bank accounts, retirement accounts or insurance policies. They wouldn’t know whether to bury or cremate us or what to do with our property and our stuff. They would spend hundreds of hours trying to figure things out, and probably thousands of dollars on lawyers’ fees.
This is not a “gift” I want to leave my children. So I am going to get my act together now, in the gloomy gray days of March, before the whole world is chirping with new life and death will be the farthest thing from my mind.
First I’m going to buy an accordion file. Then I’m going to label the sections. Then I will put papers (originals or copies, I’m not sure) in them. Here’s how it will go:
1)      THE BASICS. The wills, the living wills, the power of attorney forms. One article I read recently said 57 percent of adults do not have a will. And of those from 45 to 64 years of age, a shocking 44 percent do not have a will. Including me and my husband!
2)      PROOFS OF OWNERSHIP. Deeds to property, titles to vehicles. For whatever the kids would want to do with the house and cars, they’ll need the documents.
3)      BANK ACCOUNTS, RETIREMENT ACCOUNTS. Documentation for all bank accounts, retirement accounts, and other sources of income with account numbers and contact people. Our executor will have to contact these people and send death certificates to some.
4)      HEALTH CARE. List of all doctors with phone numbers. List of any medications, in case we’re not dead, but severely in need of care. Maybe the living will or advance directive would go in here, too.
5)      INSURANCE. Health, home, auto, and life insurance policies — the name of the carrier, the policy number and the agent associated with the policy. Some policies have cash value, and others will need to be canceled. I recently read that states hold billions of dollars in unclaimed life insurance payments, because it’s not the insurance company’s job to find the heirs of the deceased; it’s the job of the heirs. Without information about the policies, it can’t be done.
6)      TAX RECORDS. I remember that it was useful to have a couple of years’ income tax records when my mom died.
7)      WISHES AND DESIRES. What to do with our physical remains? What about a memorial service or celebration of life? Friends to notify? Where should any stuff be donated that the family doesn’t want? What charities or organizations would we like to support?
There, I’ve got a plan. Seven categories. About a dozen documents to take the mystery out of dealing with the remains of our life. I might not even need an accordion file. It might all fit in a manila envelope.
Finally, perhaps the most difficult task, my husband and I will sit down with all the kids and talk about our preparations for death.
I hope the kids won’t be thanking us for a good many years, but when the time comes, I know they will.
Abi Sessions is a retired educator with three grown children and three grandchildren. She lives in Cornwall with her husband, Bill.

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