Two weeks ago, my good friend Mary died. She was a single woman whose only living relative was her cousin who lives several hours flying time away. Mary relied on her friends as her support network and I was one of those friends.
Mary told her friend who called every morning that she wasn't feeling well and asked her to call back in a little while. When Mary didn't respond to the second call, her friend called me to use my key and check on Mary. When I arrived Mary was dying, I called the paramedics and did CPR as instructed by the 911 operator. We didn't get the outcome we wanted and yet Marys system worked perfectly, she didn't die alone.
As the news of her death was settling in, panic was setting in about locating her cousin and the disposition of her body. We knew that she had made plans but we didn't know what those plans were. It was doubly upsetting to lose Mary and to feel that her affairs were in limbo.
It comforts me that when the time comes for my sister and I to act for my dad that we know all about Daddy's black briefcase. From the time I was a teenager, every vacation or business trip my parents took without me was prefaced with a reminder about Daddy's black briefcase because that's where my parents stored copies of all their important papers and contact information about their estate.
Thank goodness when my mother became ill with Alzheimer's disease that the briefcase already held a power of attorney for finance and a durable power of attorney for healthcare so that my dad could step in and make decisions for her when she could no longer make wise choices for herself.
Whats in Daddy's Black Briefcase
- His living trust
- His will
- A power of attorney for finance
- A durable power of attorney for healthcare (my sister and I are Dads agents on the power of attorney so we have copies too)
- A list of active bank & brokerage accounts
- The phone number of his attorney
- A letter to my sister and I about songs, poems & prayers he wants at his funeral service
- His army discharge paper
Other items to put into your briefcase (we know where Dad keeps this information)
- Pension & health plan contacts
- Last years tax return & tax preparer information
- List of people to be contacted about your death or the location of your address book with red dots next to the names of people to be called
- Key to your safe deposit box & address of the bank
- Prepaid burial/cremation plan information or your wishes
- The secure location where passwords to online accounts, bank, etc. are stored
- Marriage certificate/divorce papers
This is not intended to be a comprehensive list but rather a starting place. Your attorney can give you a list a documents and information to pull together and there are many books and websites on the subject of estate planning.
I know that many people are uncomfortable about planning for the inevitable. Many of us don't want to even speak about death.
If you and your family members don't have your own briefcases start putting them together. Start from a place of integrity of knowing your own plans are in order before you approach older family members. If you don't know what your older family member wants and the plans he/she has made, start having a series of respectful conversations to get the process started.
Its time for shift in our thoughts to realize that planning for disability and death and communicating with the people who will be helping us is our gift of love to the people who love us.
Do you have a version of Daddy's Black Briefcase? Tell us what you've done to prepare.