I’m Dead – Now What?

There is a book titled I’m Dead Now What and I just love the title because it’s an attention grabber and addresses the need for everyone to be prepared for the end of life. There was also a recent article in The Washington Post titled “Everything Your Family Needs to Know when you Die.”

The end of our life is inevitable for all of us. It can be summed up in a verse from Isaiah 38:1. “In those days, when Hezekiah was mortally ill, the prophet Isaiah, son of Amoz, came and said to him: ‘Thus says the LORD: Put your house in order, for you are about to die; you shall not recover.’”

As the saying goes, two things are certain—taxes and death. We know when taxes are due, but we never know when death will occur. And it’s not even about death. What if someone becomes disabled, seriously ill, or comatose? How do the family members know where important information is located and how to use it?

We have a notebook we call The Bean Book. It’s one-stop shopping for all the important information either of us or our son would need. The documents in this book are things like: Birth Certificates, Sacramental Records (including our marriage license), Military Discharge, Trust, Will, Power of Attorney, Deeds, Vehicle Titles and copies of our Passports and Driver Licenses.

In addition to all the documents, your family needs a complete list of the professionals who are handling different concerns. The list includes Attorney, Accountant, Insurance Agent, Financial Advisor, Real Estate Advisor, Banker, Stock Broker, key contacts at your job and any friends you would recommend to your family as a wise source of godly counsel.

If you are like most people, this information is scattered about. Maybe some of it is on statements from these businesses. Part of it is probably in your contact list on your phone. And other pieces are on papers in files in your desk.  But what a blessing for your family to have all the information listed in one easy to find location.

The family or your caretakers also need to have a complete picture of your financial situation. A big part of that is a list of all the bills and how they get paid. There are so many online transactions these days and if someone is not familiar with how the bills are received and paid, they may get into financial trouble out of ignorance. We have a spreadsheet listing: the company issuing the bill, the account number, how the bill is received, the email address to which it is sent, when it comes (monthly, quarterly or yearly) how it gets paid (auto draft, credit card, the bill payer function on the bank’s website or payment that’s generated from the billing company website.)

The number of online transactions we each have means the family needs to know about online accounts, and all the URLs, security questions and passwords needed to access them. Developing a secure password is important but even more important is having your spouse or caretaker know what the password is if they need it in an emergency and where to find it. We use an app for our passwords, so investigate and find one that’s right for you.

A Financial Statement is another tool to give your family peace of mind. List your debts then list your assets and subtract debts from assets to determine if you have a positive or negative net worth. This gives your family a snapshot of their financial health.

The financial picture is made real by having a spending plan the family can access and use. They have to know how much is spent on a monthly basis NOW in order to anticipate any adjustments that will be made after someone dies.

And knowing your net worth and budget helps you calculate how much insurance you need. If the income is no longer available where do the survivors get their income?  What is available from insurance, social security, company benefits, etc. The amount will change as you move through different stages of life so it is important to visit insurance needs each year.

We may hate to think about someone else making health care decisions for us, but it’s important for you to have a Catholic Living Will, HIPPA waiver, Health Care Power of Attorney and Organ Donation card.

Much of what our secular materialistic society promotes strays from God’s teachings on how we should handle our finances and possessions. We should be equally vigilant in making sure that our health care and end-of-life directives follow Catholic teaching, and not those of a society that is looking for easy and quick fix solutions, i.e., euthanasia.

Agreeing to a euthanasia clause as part of your medical directives is contrary to our faith. Everyone who is alive has inherent dignity, deserving basic care, even if there is no hope of recovery. Nutrition and hydration must be provided, even via artificial assistance, along with other basic necessities such as the provision of warmth, cleanliness and pain management.

To apply this reasoning correctly we must recognize that all human life, not only a particular kind of life we might consider “normal” or “productive,” is precious and should be preserved. People suffering from a very severe disability, do not lose their human dignity. 

Planning your funeral may be a morbid thought, but if there are favorite readings or songs you want at your funeral or if you want someone who is very special to you to sing at your funeral Mass, then it’s a good idea to write down what you want so those left behind can fulfill your last wishes. It is a blessing for your family to have these decisions made.

Let’s remind ourselves of this reality. We will take nothing with us. “And [Job] said: “Naked I came forth from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I go back there” (Job 1:21).

One of the best ways to demonstrate your love for your family and friends is to set your house in order and encourage others to do the same.

Check out the Compass Catholic Bible study, Set Your House in Order. It’s a 5-week small group study which walks you through the process of getting all your important information created, updated and organized.

What Does Set Your House in Order mean?

The Set Your House In Order Bible Study is all about helping you be prepared for the inevitable. Two things in life are certain—taxes and death.  We know when taxes are due but we never know when death will occur.  And if that happens, or if you are incapacitated in some way, your family will need to know where your important information is located. Where is your will? Who is your doctor, lawyer, accountant, banker? Where is your insurance information?

They’ll need all this information and a lot more! The five week Set Your House In Order Bible study will guide you through gathering and updating this data.

The verse that sums up the first week is from Isaiah 38:1. “In those days, when Hezekiah was mortally ill, the prophet Isaiah, son of Amoz, came and said to him: ‘Thus says the LORD: Put your house in order, for you are about to die; you shall not recover.’”

During the first week, you will concentrate on gathering and organizing all your important documents in one place. These are items such as: birth certificates, sacramental records, military discharges, trusts, power of attorney, etc.

There are three ways to keep important info. Paper copies need to be in a secure, fireproof and burglar proof location. Electronic copies on your computer should be password protected and backed up. The third option is online file storage, which is offered by many banks and financial service companies.

During the second week of the study, we discuss God’s Ownership and our responsibility to be a good steward of what God has given to us. It’s easy to believe intellectually that God owns all we have, yet still live as if this were not true. Yet Psalm 24:1 is very clear: “The earth is the LORD’s and all it holds, the world and those who dwell in it.”

Think about it. Everyone around us—our neighbors, the media, even the law—say that we own our possessions. But the Bible reveals the truth—God is the owner and we are stewards of his blessings.

One of the practical applications we use to drive home the difference between God’s role as owner and our role as stewards is a symbolic “Deed” acknowledging God’s ownership.

During this week, you gather information about your investments and assets in preparation for doing a financial statement in Week 3.

Discussion in week 2 includes seeking godly counsel when making financial decisions. When we think of people who are skilled in financial decision-making, we often think of experts or those who are older and more experienced. Yet the Bible offers us more insight and wisdom than financial experts who don’t know God’s way of handling money. The truths of the Bible are timeless. It is truly a living book that communicates God’s direction to all generations.

Week 3 can be summed up in Proverbs 24:3-4: “By wisdom a house is built, by understanding it is established; And by knowledge, its rooms are filled with every precious and pleasing possession.”

The practical applications for this week include completing Financial Statement, subtracting your debts from your assets, so you have a picture of your financial net worth—is it positive or negative?

The other practical tool is to complete List of Advisors. These are contacts the person who is handling your affairs would need to know, such as your: attorney, accountant, insurance agent, and any friends you would recommend as a wise source of godly counsel.

One thing your family would need to know is your passwords. These days we use passwords to guard accessibility to everything from our email and social media accounts to our bank accounts.

The verse for the fourth week is from 1 Timothy 5:8: “And whoever does not provide for relatives and especially family members has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” So, this is the week we concentrate on what happens financially after the death of a loved one.

There are three practical tools that work together. A current spending plan allows you to know how much you spend on a monthly basis NOW in order to anticipate any adjustments that will be made after someone dies.

An insurance calculation helps you determine how much life insurance you need to support the survivors. If the breadwinner’s income is no longer available how do they survive financially? What is available from insurance, social security, company benefits, etc.?

We also have you do an insurance inventory to get a complete picture of all available insurance: life, homeowners, umbrella, auto, health, disability, and long term care. The insurance inventory includes policies purchased individually as well as group policies such as work related insurance.

One of the most important topics in this week is Health Care decisions: a living will; HIPPA waiver; health care power of attorney and organ donation. Our secular society focuses on money and possessions but as stewards, we should be equally vigilant in making sure that our health care and end-of-life directives follow Catholic teaching, and not those of a society that is looking for easy and quick fix solutions, such as euthanasia.

Everyone who is alive has inherent dignity, deserving basic care, even if there is no hope of recovery. Nutrition and hydration, must be provided, even via artificial assistance, along with other basic necessities such as the provision of warmth, cleanliness and pain management.

To apply this reasoning correctly we must recognize that all human life, not only a particular kind of life we might consider “normal” or “productive,” is precious and should be preserved.

In this respect, as Pope John Paul II pointed out, the term “vegetative state” is unfortunate and potentially misleading—a human being must never be dismissed as having the status of a “vegetable.”

The fifth week is the last one and we encourage you to leave a legacy by communicating your life story to future generations. You can write a letter, compose a picture album, or shoot a video sharing your family history and the milestones in your life. Most importantly we encourage you to share your relationship with Christ. Why is your faith important to you and how do you want to pass it on to future generations?

We ask people to plan their funeral. This may be a morbid thought for some, but if there are favorite readings or songs you want at your funeral or if you want someone who is very special to you to sing at your funeral Mass, then it’s a good idea to write down what you want so those left behind know what your wishes were.

Let’s remind ourselves of three realities: We all will die (2 Kings 20:1). When we die will take nothing with us (Job 1:21). Someone else will get our stuff (Ecclesiastes 2:18-19).

One of the best ways to demonstrate your love for your family and friends is to get your affairs in order and encourage others to do the same.  

Setting your house in order is the best gift you can give to your family.

Important Questions to Ask Your Parents

My mom thinks she has been married three times and she also thinks she has five children. In reality the only siblings from her one (60+ year) marriage are me and my sister. Sometimes all you can do is laugh to keep from crying.  

She is 96 years old and does not have many years left. Because we never know when someone will be injured, ill or incapacitated, it is important to be prepared if anything happens to mom, dad, aunts, uncles or other loved ones.

If they were incapable of taking care of themselves, where would you find the information you need to care for their affairs – financial, medical, physical and spiritual?

It can be a tough process to go through, but it’s a lot easier to do now, rather then when there is an emergency and tensions and emotions are high.

Here is a list of suggested topics for you to discuss with your parents:

  1. Location of important documents

All the documentation and information in the world are useless if you can’t find it and use it. By starting with where the information is located you can uncover which information may be missing.

Make sure your parents have a safe place to store all sensitive and private information. If they have a safe, find out where it located, and where the key/combination is kept. Also ask if they have a safe deposit box. In order to access it, your name will have to be on file with the bank.

Important information you may need includes:

  • Health Care Surrogate
  • Power of Attorney
  • Catholic Living Will
  • Health and Life Insurance policies
  • Will or trust documents
  • Deeds
  • Vehicle titles
  • Savings bonds
  • Stock certificates
  • Pension information
  • Account statements for investment, retirement and bank accounts.
  1. Account registrations

Whether your parents’ accounts are registered in one name, in both names as joint owners, or have beneficiary designations, the way they are set up determines who controls the assets and how they will transfer.

Check beneficiary designations and make sure your parents’ beneficiary designations are up to date, including up to date names, addresses and phone numbers of all beneficiaries. Be sure they’ve designated both primary and contingent beneficiaries in case their primary beneficiary passes away before they do.

  1. Key Contacts

Be sure you have the names, addresses, phone numbers, websites, etc. for any professionals involved in your parents’ financial and medical lives. This list should include:

  • Financial planners
  • Investment advisors
  • Brokers
  • Lawyers
  • Insurance agents
  • Accountants
  • Doctors (general and specialty) as well as other medical professionals.

In addition to professional contacts, ask your parents about personal contacts such as friends, extended family, priest, etc. and how to reach those people.

You may know some of them, but you probably don’t know all of them.

  1. Power Of Attorney

Everyone should have a durable power of attorney appointing someone to make financial decisions for them, if they are no longer capable of doing it themselves.

The Durable Power of Attorney allows the designated agent to file the parent’s income tax returns, withdraw funds from the parent’s IRA or other retirement accounts for the parent’s care, deal with credit card companies or insurance companies, make deposits and write checks on the parent’s bank account, and more.

If access to a bank account is intended, it may be necessary to complete a separate Durable Power of Attorney at the bank, using the bank’s form and completing a signature card that puts your signature on file.

  1. Health Care Proxy

A health care power of attorney (proxy) is a written document which designates someone to make health care decisions on their behalf.

If your parents don’t have a health care proxy, the court system intervenes and will appoint a legal guardian, who may not follow your parents’ wishes.

The list of their doctors, and other health care professionals and health insurance policies we mentioned earlier will be needed. Be sure you have member ID numbers, long-term care policies, and any medications they may be taking.

  1. Catholic Living Will

A living will is a written document which sets forth a person’s wishes and gives instructions about health care when the person is unable to make those decisions.

As Catholics, health care decisions should be made in the light of our Faith. Morally correct decisions are based on our respect for the sanctity and dignity of life and acknowledge our dependence upon God. Our decisions must be rooted in the recognition that each of us is the steward of the gift of our life. This is a way to profess our Faith and help to ensure that the decisions about the care we receive when we cannot speak for ourselves are made in accord with our religious beliefs.

  1. Electronic Assets

Everyone has some sort of electronic assets.  Be sure you get details, including URLs; User IDs; personal identification numbers (PINs) or passwords; security questions and answers. Your parents should keep this information in a safe place you can access.

  1. Disposition of Personal Items

Do they have any special directions regarding how their assets are to be distributed (especially tangible personal property like jewelry, art, books, collectibles, furniture, etc.)?

Unless it’s unusually valuable these items are not covered by a will, so it is important for them to document anything they have promised to someone or anything they want to pass along to a specific individual.

  1. Final Arrangements

Though it’s probably the toughest question to ask, find out what your parents want for final arrangements. Review if they have a cemetery plot or prepaid mortuary arrangements. Do they have a preference regarding burial or cremation?  Are there special readings and songs they want at their funeral Mass?

This is one of the most important and possibly one of the most difficult discussions you will ever have with your parents and it is very easy to put it off. However, there can be a bright side to this process.  Sometimes in doing a review such as this, the old letters and pictures get pulled out as well as some ancient family history and stories. Use this time to rejoice in your family and celebrate the lives you’ve shared.

Don’t wait until it is too late. Those who accept this and face it will be far better prepared to deal with it when the time comes. Our death or illness may be many years away but it will come sooner or later. Isaiah 38:1 tells us, ”In those days, when Hezekiah was mortally ill, the prophet Isaiah, son of Amoz, came and said to him: “Thus says the Lord: Put your house in order, for you are about to die; you shall not recover.””
The Compass Catholic Set Your House In Order Bible is a great resource to use for these discussions.