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Preparedness.... Your advice?

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I was asked recently to be on a panel discussion at my church about family preparedness.  They want to have several of us widows speak about being prepared for the passing of a loved one.  They asked us to talk about the things we've done to prepare, and the things we wish we had done, or things we wish we had known ahead of time. 

What advice would you give? What surprises/challenges did you face?

I know I'll talk about the fact that it cost $10K to bury my LH here in Ca..... And how little SSI pays.... and what a relief it was to have life insurance....  But what else?   What about legal details? 


My first husband had a progressive disease and we knew it would eventually take him. So, on some levels, we were able to be prepared. That doesn’t mean I was totally prepared. The things we did?

Prepared our wills and drew up paperwork for power of attorney and living wills

Made sure as much as possible was either jointly owed or just in my name

Talked about what we wanted about burial (which only got as far as “together somewhere”)

Spoke of our love and shared life memories

My second husband’ death was unexpected, but being that we were both widowed, we knew the routine. So we:

Revised our wills and changed our documents for power of attorney and living wills

Talked about our desires for burial, with specifics (cremation, divided ashes, half buried with late spouses and half together)

Made sure property was jointly owned and beneficiaries of insurance, retirement plans and bank accounts were updated

Spoke every single day of our love and the joy we brought each other.

There were a few headaches left - such as savings bonds held jointly by my second husband and his late wife (more hoops to jump through than anything else I did!) but I think I had it more smoothly than most people.

I have heard some people who struggled more because of mortgages only in the name of the deceased spouse or houses that only had the deceased spouse on the deed.

Know where paperwork is - such as car titles and the deed to the house. Also, a list of all accounts and passwords. My husband had a couple of small 401k type accounts that I wasn’t aware of from decades back that were harder to track down because paperwork only came at the end of the year and he died in January. 

That probably isn’t everything, but it hits most things I can think of.

Hugs. I would not want to give this presentation!


I would say, be prepared to be unprepared.  I had 18 months to get ready for his inevitable death.  I thought I had it under control emotionally and otherwise, and so did everyone around me.  Turns out, no amount of preparation prepared me for the emotional fallout from his death. 

I agree with Toosoon.  We thought we had everything prepared, Tim was a financial advisor and helped many clients prepare and deal with the aftermath of death so he knew a lot and he had us meet with our attorney to get everything set.  There were still unforeseen headaches to deal with.  But, I will forever be grateful that our wills, power of attorney, medical proxy, life insurance, mortgage and property were handled ahead of time.  He changed his mind towards the end of how he wanted his ashes dealt with Jt we had discussed our wishes long before he got sick.

For my mom the major thing for her was that my Dad took over paying all of the bills when he retired and did it all on the computer.  My mom had no clue how to access the online stuff and having to learn that in the fog of grief was stressful.

So... legal stuff up to date every 5 years or so
        Life insurance
        Property and bank accounts in both names
        Burial/cremation/funeral wishes discussed
        All passwords shared
        A book of household maintenance schedule and who to call when something breaks
        Both partners need to know about bills and finances

Emotionally, there is no way to prepare but I suggest never leaving anything unsaid, say I love you every day and mean it, don't go to bed or leave the house angry because you never know and you don't want that to be the last words between you.

Good luck with this, I'm sure it won't be an easy thing to do but if you help someone it will be worth it.

This is a sore spot for me. We had two years to prepare between his diagnosis of stage 4 pancreatic cancer and his death, but my husband was unable to accept or make peace with the fact that he was dying, and any preparations we made were ones I came up with on my own and had to insist on or sneak past him.

He had never gotten around to writing a will. I had to insist on that, reasoning that it was something he should have done anyway, and that I would do needed updates to mine at the same time. Still, he did it grudgingly, grumbling that I was jinxing him.

He refused to give me most of his passwords while he could, and then he was too zonked on pain meds to remember them. I wish I had insisted on that.

There was a short period of time between when it was clear he’d never drive again and when he couldn’t be left alone at all, that I got him to sign papers to trade in his car for one more appropriate for our son to inherit. I had to promise that of course we’d get him a new car when he “got well”. That saved time and hassle and my son was able to then drive himself to school when I could barely leave the house.

I wish we had put the house in my name only. Six years later the insurance company is still refusing to change the policy into just my name for some archaic reason I couldn’t have predicted. Our finances weren’t that complicated, and showing the will and death certificate made most things fairly easy. Luckily I was advised to get at least 10 copies of the death certificate—that came in handy, and I ended up getting 10 more. The utilities were all in my name anyway.

The practical stuff I don’t remember as being very big deals, but I wish more than anything that we’d been able to talk honestly about his impending death. We had an open and honest relationship where we could and did talk about everything—except that. It still hurts. He was completely aware of the physical facts, but somehow convinced himself that if he believed hard enough, and everyone around him, especially me, believed too, that somehow he’d pull through. Then he was mentally gone, zonked on painkillers, months before he was physically gone. The man I knew and loved was gone before his body died, and I feel like I never really got a chance to say goodbye or get permission to go on living.

His sixth death anniversary is coming up in a few weeks, and I’m feeling pretty raw this year, partly I think because I’ve been dealing with living alone with a fractured foot, and the pain and limited mobility just amplifies my loneliness more than usual. I don’t know if any of this helps your discussion, but it’s been helpful to me to write it out.


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