Death Happens, Plan for It

Connie (Heather’s childrens’ Godmother):

A little over 18 months ago, my mother died suddenly and unexpectedly. I learned a few things and realized a few things in that experience that might be helpful to other people, and I’ve been writing this blog post in my head since then. When Heather’s step-sister died three and a half months ago, I again thought I should share this, but still I didn’t feel I’d found the right words. Now that we’ve gone through another round of death and grief with the death of Heather’s sister Laura, I realize I can’t put this off any longer. This won’t be the most well-written post on Home Ec 101, and it certainly won’t be a complete list, but here are a few things that might help all of us prepare just a bit for unexpected things in our lives. Leave your own helpful ideas in the comments. We can all learn from each other.

Note: these are not necessarily in order of priority. Choose what you can do now to help your family.

* Get a living will and a will in place for every member of the family who is over age 18. Share the details of these documents with your family now. Let them know where the documents are kept.

* Become an organ donor. Make your wishes known.

* Put your family’s and friends’ phone numbers in your cell phones and on a list at home on your fridge. When an emergency happens, it doesn’t matter that you’ve never had to call your sister at her workplace before. You need to have that phone number available. The same goes with local friends. In today’s age of Twitter and Facebook, many of us of a certain generation never speak on the phone, but we need to have the option. It’s also helpful to have this list on your fridge in case law enforcement ever has to enter your home while you were away. For that reason, make sure you put your own cell phone and work numbers on the list.

* Put these numbers in your cell phone and on the list on your refrigerator:

Poison Control 800-222-1222

I’m so serious about this. If your child swallows something, you do not want to waste precious seconds trying to find the number to poison control. Calling 911 in this case isn’t the best answer either. The people at Poison Control have the most complete information to help you in this situation. Go right now, this minute, and put these numbers in your cell phone.

National Suicide Prevention Hotlines: 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433)

1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255)

Let’s pray we never have the need to use these numbers, but let’s have them at our fingertips just in case.

* Don’t let your car’s gasoline tank get near empty. If you have an emergency and have to get to the hospital immediately, whether to take a patient there or to try to make it there to say goodbye to somebody before it’s too late, you do not have time to fill up the tank along the way. This is a habit we all can start now.

* Similarly, don’t wait until the last minute to pay your bills. If you’re holding vigil for several days in a hospital, you don’t want to have to worry about coming home to utilities that have been turned off.

* Refill your prescriptions in a timely manner, so that you always have several days’ worth of medication available.

* Give a trusted family member or friend a key to your house and perhaps also your car. Be willing to be that person for others as well.

* If you have school-aged children, have at least two people in addition to parents listed as authorized to pick them up in an emergency in case you are unable to.

* If you have pets, discuss with your local friends and family who could take care of them in an emergency if you were unavailable. Go out of your way to offer to do this for your friends who have pets, because they may not be thinking ahead the way we’re trying to do.

* Even more importantly, if you have children, decide now who at least two people are who can care for them if you are unavailable for a period of time.

* Keep a pad of paper, two pens, and a pencil in your car’s glove box. They’ll be there when you need them, whether that’s because you were in a minor fender bender and need to exchange information with the other driver, or because you get that emergency call about your mom’s being taken to the hospital by ambulance and you need to write down details so you can call your sister in that town and tell her correct information about which hospital to go to.

* Does everybody in your house own funeral-appropriate attire in his or her current clothing size? I’m not necessarily suggesting we go out and buy clothes, but I do think if we take a moment to take inventory, that will help us prepare should the need arise. At least you’ll know ahead of time.

* Stay on top of the laundry. When my mom died, I was an hour and a half away from my home, and that home was 8 hours away from Mom’s home. I had to drive home, pack in just a few minutes, and get back on the road to drive to Tennessee. It helped tremendously to go into a closet full of clean and neatly put away clothes from which to choose while I packed, because trust me, I wasn’t thinking straight by that point.

* Know where your suitcases are. Unpack them and put them away when you get back from your trips so that you know where they are if you need them in a hurry. If your suitcases don’t have a designated home where you always store them, then assign one to them now and put them there each time.

* If there are people who depend on your income, get life insurance. Stay at home parents should be covered as well. Consider getting life insurance outside of your workplace benefits, because if you leave your job for any reason, your benefits will end. Even if nobody depends on your income and you’re not a stay at home parent in a two-parent household, consider getting at least enough life insurance to cover your funeral costs if you don’t have the financial resources for your estate to cover those expenses.

* Don’t put off saying what needs to be said. None of us is promised tomorrow. Pick up the phone and call the person you haven’t spoken to but have been meaning to, or write a letter and put it in the mail today. Life is short, and I’ve seen regret eat away at friends for years because their loved ones died before they mended fences. Reach out now so you don’t regret it later.

* Share this list with somebody, because sometimes it’s hard to start these conversations, and it’s okay if we use a post on a website to start the dialogue.


  1. casey on September 16, 2013 at 11:44 am

    If there are people who depend on your income, get life insurance. Stay at home parents should be covered as well. Consider getting life insurance outside of your workplace benefits, because if you leave your job for any reason, your benefits will end. Even if nobody depends on your income and you’re not a stay at home parent in a two-parent household, consider getting at least enough life insurance to cover your funeral costs if you don’t have the financial resources for your estate to cover those expenses.


    I didn’t read through all the commetns so it might have been mentioned already but we went through this with my bro recently. Nothing happened, but we ‘the family’ found out he didn’t have life insurance on his stay at home wife. They have two kids (9 months & 2 1/2). If heaven forbid she died or was incapacitated, he would need to fund not only funeral expenses, but daycare expenses for at least 5 years (both kids have late b-day’s, they won’t start kindergarten until they are almost 6.) General rule of thumb is you want 10x your annual salary – if you make $40K then you want $400K of life insurance. Get as much disability insurance as you can for both the working parent and stay at home spouse. It is not that expensive – I am a 36 year old female in good health and my disability insurance is $.42 a month (subsidized through my company)

  2. Karen on September 15, 2013 at 6:03 pm

    Thank you for this list, Connie. My mother died quickly and unexpectedly a little over two weeks ago. Fortunately I live close by (only about two hours in “normal” traffic, but somewhat longer during rush hour). I wish I had found your list before my mom passed. I was prepared in several areas you mentioned and will add the others to my preparations.

    As a recipient of many kindnesses, I’d like to mention one that was extremely helpful and practical for our situation: someone brought over a basket with cracker packets, mixed nuts, raisins and other single-serve grab-n-snack items. Friends brought over meals and they were much appreciated. But the basket of “snacks” was so great – for the morning we were called over early and no one had time for breakfast, for my 2 year old nephew who was hungry between meals, etc.

    It is something I will always be grateful for and will pass along if i am able.

    My sincere sympathy for the loss of your mother and Heather’s sister.

    • Connie on September 17, 2013 at 2:54 pm

      Oh, Karen, I am so very sorry. Thank you for taking the time to post your comment even while you are still dealing with the rawness of new grief.

      You bring up a great point about food. The church ladies and the neighbors who brought food to us in the days after Mom’s death were a tremendous blessing to us. We were blessed by sandwich fixings, a full bbq meal one night with all the sides, sweets, and certainly other things that I’m forgetting at the moment. As you realized how helpful snacks were for your family, we realized that vegetables were much appreciated in ours. It’s easy enough to go without fresh fruit and veggies for a day or two, but after several days without them, we really missed them. When our meal included a veggie tray, that was one of the first things to go.

      You know, I never understood as a child why people would take food to families after a death. Experiencing it first-hand, I understood instantly.

  3. Janet Foster on September 12, 2013 at 2:40 pm

    Great list. I have a few others.

    1. Make sure you have some money put away for emergency travel – especially if you don’t have credit cards.
    2. Make sure that someone knows where important papers like life insurance policies and deeds are stored.
    3. If you have an unmarried parent, make sure that someone (a trusted child) has access to their bank accounts. Their household bills still need to be paid after death.
    4. This one really hits home for me. If you are the person that handles the finances in your home, make sure someone knows how to access all accounts in case of an untimely death. That includes retirement, checking, savings, HSAs, credit cards, etc.

    • Connie on September 13, 2013 at 6:00 pm

      Janet, these are great additions. I need to do a better job of getting #2 and #4 done in my family.

  4. Becky on September 11, 2013 at 8:43 pm

    Fantastic list – couple of extra things:
    If you have children, make sure that you have spoken to and documented in your Will who should be their guardian should both of you (the parents) die. Consider having a trust for the money/proceeds from the estate. You can assign a person to be guardian and ANOTHER person to be a in charge of the trust(the money). This works great if the person you want to be a guardian is not very good with money.

    Also consider (especially if the estate is very large) that any money leftover in the trust when the children are “finished” with being raised would not be distributed amongst the children until the youngest is say 30. That way you don’t have a 20 year old blowing a ton of money.

    Put ALL major assets in writing if you want to designate that they go TO someone. Example: When my Father died, he wanted me to have his car and for the proceeds NOT to be taken out of my share of the estate. I knew that and the executor of the will knew that – but he didn’t put it in writing. Therefore, the car was sold and divided among the heirs.

    MAKE SURE THE LOCATION OF THE ORIGINAL WILL IS KNOWN. MAKE SURE IT IS SIGNED IN BLUE INK. Things get messy very fast if the ORIGINAL will is not presented (and this depends on the state too). Example: A man had 5 children and a woman had 2 children. They were in a second marriage (that lasted 40 plus years). The woman died and all that could be found was a COPY of the will. Therefore, when the man died, HIS children got 50% of the estate to divide among the 5 children and HER children got 50% of the estate to divide between the 2 children. This was NOT what was in their will, but since no ORIGINAL could be found of her will, this was how the property was to be divided

    • Connie on September 11, 2013 at 10:40 pm

      Becky, this is great information. Thanks. Not having kids myself, I don’t know the details of that part of estate planning, and it certainly is crucial.

    • Marie on September 15, 2013 at 9:59 pm

      Yes, Yes! This is my mantra to my friends who seem to be afraid to pick a person who will be the guardian of their kids should both parents die. DO NOT LET SOMEONE ELSE PICK YOUR KIDS’ GUARDIANS FOR YOU SHOULD YOU DIE!!! Do not worry about hurt feelings because you feel your kids ‘should’ go to your brother but you think the parenting style of your cousin/neighbor/kids’ godparents fit better with your own and how you want your kids to be raised. It is not morbid. It is smart! If you don’t designate, those kids will be more likely to go to your brother upon your death and be raised differently than you would want. If it makes you feel better – don’t tell your brother you’ve done it, then he never has to be offended unless and until you die and then you won’t be around to know it. You will feel better having done it. I promise. And please tell your kids what the plan is. They will feel better, too.

      • Connie on September 17, 2013 at 2:57 pm

        You’re right, Marie. One of the last gifts a parent can give a child is a well thought-out plan in the event of his or her untimely death. Taking time to make the decisions now and implementing them with formal legal documents is so vital.

    • casey on September 16, 2013 at 11:50 am

      My grandmother left a trust for her 3 grandkids. The way it is set up is we each get a set amount at certain birthdays and my mom is the executor. When my mother dies, whatever is left in the trust gets split three ways but is somehow pro-rates so that we each get an equal share even though we are different ages. Like I just got my 35 year amount but neither of my siblings have theirs yet (and my sister doesn’t even have her 30 yr amt yet) so if we split it now she would get the highest percentage, then my brother, then me.

  5. Bev on September 11, 2013 at 12:15 pm

    All good information. Another one to add is not to let your cell phone battery get too low and to make sure you have emergency money in the house to take along for times when you might find yourself having to pay for parking or using a vending machine in the wee hours of the morning in some hospital’s waiting room. Keep your own medications well stocked so a few days can go by without worrying about getting a refill and make sure you take any medication along that you might need while your gone. Thanks for posting this Connie : D

    • Connie on September 11, 2013 at 5:19 pm

      Bev, those are both great additions to the list. I do ok keeping the phone charged most of the time, but I’m bad about keeping emergency cash in the house. I think I’ll change that today. Thank you.

  6. Michell on September 11, 2013 at 11:12 am

    Thanks so much for this list…very thorough!! Something we should ALL have on hand. My condolences to you for your losses. I know how you feel, my mom died suddenly as well, something you’re NEVER prepared for! I wanted to share this information, but didn’t see any share buttons. Thanks again!

    Michell @Prowess and Pearls

    • Connie on September 11, 2013 at 5:16 pm

      Thank you, Michell. You have my condolences as well.

  7. Cherie on September 11, 2013 at 9:56 am

    A well thought out list – my sympathies to you both dealing with the losses you are – and thanks for thinking of helping others with your experience

    • Connie on September 11, 2013 at 5:13 pm

      Thank you, Cherie. Hopefully something here will help somebody someday. What stinks is that there are so many somedays. :-/

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