To my baby girl,
I can’t believe you’re getting married today! I’m so sorry I couldn’t be there. I’m sure you look beautiful. This is the first day of your new life and I wish you all the best…
That’s how the first letter went. I wrote about 40 of these. I did it even before my daughter was born. Each one was hand-written on beautiful stationery (excess thank you cards from our wedding) and sealed in envelopes with the names of important future events on the front. This one said, “On Your Wedding Day”.
When I found out I was pregnant with my daughter, I was elated. It took a while before we were able to conceive — almost a whole year after getting married. Like any mom-to-be, dread started to set in soon after finding out we were expecting. Among the many negative thoughts were those of death. So, I started writing to my yet-to-be-born child when I was only a few weeks pregnant with her.
The very first one I wrote was the letter that was meant to be opened on her wedding day. Then, I worked my way back from there. I wrote one for the first day of school, for her first relationship, her first heartbreak, her first job. I moved on to writing letters for her based on how she might be feeling at certain points in her life. So, I had a letter for when she’s feeling sad, when she achieves something amazing, when she wants to switch careers, and many more. I wanted to be with her and share nuggets of wisdom even when I’m no longer around.
The art of planning for one’s own passing never gets the attention it deserves. According to AARP, 60% of US adults do not have a will or an estate plan. Meanwhile, CDC says that about 1/3 of adults don’t have advance directive expressing their wishes for end-of-life care either.
There are many things one can do to prepare for death. I started with the letters because the event that triggered me to prepare was my pregnancy. I moved on to preparing a full “death pack” which my husband has access to once I die.
The aftermath of one’s death is so much more than just the pain of dealing with loss. It will involve a lot of the family’s time to trace things that are required to legally close accounts, end taxation, and distribute wealth.
Little things like unlocking a phone or a computer can cause a lot of stress during this time. The family may want to do this to contact friends and colleagues who may want to be part of the memorial service. I know, it sounds morbid right? But a death pack will make the lives of our loved ones easier when we’re gone.
Here’s what I’ve put in my death pack to prepare my family for when I pass away someday:
- Insurance paperwork— There’s a financial aspect to death planning like having life insurance and funeral insurance in place. You can also get an insurance rider — which is basically an adjustment to the policy for additional benefits — this is to cover unexpected things. Some insurance companies have an accident rider, which can increase the payout for accidental death. Then there’s the terminal illness rider, which pays out a part of the insurance early for terminal cases of cancer. Know what you can afford in terms of the monthly or annual premium and consult with a professional regarding this. Keep copies of the original insurance documents in your death pack. Some insurance companies would ask for the originals when your beneficiaries file their claim.
- A will — There’s also a legal aspect to death planning. This will vary depending on what country you reside in. In most cases, a will is a good thing to have to cover the distribution of your wealth. There are some online forms for will writing, but consulting with a lawyer just makes it fool-proof. Aside from assigning your worldly possessions, your will can also give instructions for the custody/handling of any minor children you might leave behind. If your will was not drafted by a lawyer, make sure to get it notarized and signed by witnesses. Have copies of your will with your original signature and the date signed in your death pack.
- Essential paperwork — If you do not have a will that names the executor of your estate, your next of kin will most likely be your court-appointed representative to handle your affairs post-death. Whether this is your spouse, parent, sibling, or child, they will need to prove their relationship to you. Make sure you include your birth certificate, the birth certificates of your children, and your marriage certificate (whichever applies to your situation) so it makes it easier for them to process things in your name. If you have signed a pre-nuptial agreement, make sure that it is in your death pack as well.
- Memories and mementos — The most difficult part to put together for my death pack are the letters I’ve written to my daughter. I’ve also included some photos that we have together — such as her birth photo and our first family photo. I have some souvenirs from trips we’ve taken together — just small ones like a little a vintage Pinocchio puppet from when we went to Italy or a postcard from our trip to Rome.
- Funeral instructions — I want a simple funeral, more a gathering to celebrate life than anything else. So, I’ve left instructions on how I want this to be done. I’ve included things like pictures I want to be displayed during the memorial service and music that I would like played. I’ve also left instructions for my preferred disposition, which is by cremation.
- Keys to my digital life — Over the last few years, my digital footprint has grown exponentially. From social media channels to my online writing space, I want to be able to pass the keys on to someone when I die. Some websites now allow you to memorialize people who have passed on, so giving the passwords to my spouse would only make that step easier.
- The master list for everything else — I also keep a print out of an excel file that lists down things like my tax ID, important account numbers, insurance policy numbers, and more. The executor of your will may need these for account cancellations, payment of tax liabilities, and all the other things that need to be done when a person dies.
As contradictory as it sounds, my death pack is a living document. I update it at least once a year, adding more photos and little gifts. I take out the letters for events that have already passed (like the one for her first day of school). I also changed out some of the letters now that she’s a bit older and I’m seeing her personality develop.
Let’s be honest for a moment, nothing will really prepare our loved ones for our death. Having these things in place can make their lives easier when we’re gone. For children, it can make the ordeal of losing a parent easier to process and accept. For me, preparing a death pack is really like my final act of love.