What is a Death Doula?

***  Time for this post? Reading…5 minutes. Viewing…8 + 57 + 13 minutes. Exploring the highlighted resources…ongoing.

A doula is a non-medical person who provides support and nurturing to a person in life transition. Birth doulas provide information and nurturing care before and during birth, and death doulas do the same in the days and months leading up to death.

Death doulas generally have a holistic view that encompasses the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual aspects of end-of-life experiences, working with the family as well as the individual.

Other terms used to describe this work include end-of-life doula, end-of-life coach, end-of-life guide, death midwife, soul midwife, transition guide, death coach, and doula to the dying. Practitioners may have completed a certification course for death doulas, and usually bring a rich background of other training and skills that help them guide people through the end-of-life experience.

Who is a death doula?

A lawyer, a psychologist, a nurse—all are death doulas. In the videos that follow, you’ll hear each of them describe how she approaches her work with the dying.

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Alua Arthur is a lawyer and one of her specialties is advance planning documents. But her services encompass much more, as you will see. You can find out what she does at Going With Grace.

In her video, Alua refers to “memento mori.” I had to look that up. Here’s what I learned from Merriam Webster: 

Memento mori literally means “Remember you must die.” The early Puritan settlers were particularly aware of death and fearful of what it might mean, so a Puritan tombstone will often display a memento mori intended for the living. These death’s-heads or skulls may strike us as ghoulish, but they helped keep the living on the straight and narrow for fear of eternal punishment. In earlier centuries, an educated European might place an actual skull on his desk to keep the idea of death always present in his mind.

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Sarah Kerr has a PhD in psychology and additional training that has led her to focusing on non-religious ritual and ceremony. Her purpose is to help people naviagte death, loss, and transformation.You can find out more about the scope of her work at Soul Passages.

Sarah’s website is highly educational. She says, “We’ve forgotten how to meet death well, and we need to develop a wider literacy in the culture.” To that end, she posts short videos that I highly recommend. You can find them here and here. And you’ll probably want to download her Free Holistic Death Resource Kit.

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Suzanne O’Brien is a registered nurse with extensive experience in palliative care. She’s the founder of a training program who those who wish to be certified to work as end-of-life doulas. You can find out more at Doulagivers.

You don’t have to want to become a death doula to benefit from Suzanne’s work. I highly recommend the 90-minute free webinar she offers regularly. You can register by  scrolling down the home page on her website. Anyone who might one day be dealing with a dying family member will benefit from the detailed practical information she covers in this webinar, including what to expect as the body shuts down and how to help when the person is in the last stages of dying.

I’m not sure if I would hire a death doula when the time comes. But right now, I’m glad to know they are an option. And you?

Footwear too cool to dispose of.

***  Time for this post? Reading…7 minutes. Thinking about why you keep what you do…optional.

I know people who feel they must purge their living and storage spaces before they die. Their intention is to make it easier for their family to wrap up their affairs. What a shame!

True, it might help the family dispatch the estate efficiently. But what will they miss out on?

My take on that…

I think there’s something to be gained when others go through what we leave behind. They may learn things about us that they didn’t know, remember long-forgotten events, and gain perspective on who we were.

The way I see it, this is part of our legacy—and we are shortchanging our survivors if we leave a stripped-down version of our life.

To be clear, I’m not advocating for leaving an unholy mess. Like Margareta Magnusson, I think I should take responsibility for what I keep. And part of what I want to keep is those things that illustrate my history. For example…

Footwear too cool to dispose of…

When my kids clean out my place, they’ll find a couple boxes of shoes that have never been on my feet. They’re from my days as a wardrobe designer for community theatre productions.

Shoes were a challenge on a low budget, especially for period shows. I did a lot fo sourcing in thrift stores. When I saw something unique, that I’d be unlikely to find again when it was needed, I made the purchase on speculation. Most of them cost $1, or half that on a sale day.

What my family will find in the boxes…

For those who love shoes like I do, here’s a closeup look…

These women’s shoes remind me of what grownups wore when I was a child.The black rain boots and oxfords were used in two shows. Probably no one noticed but me, because they were subtle additions to the costumes. But to me, they were like icing on a cake—the finishing touch that makes it special.

The two shoes in the next photo make my heart sing, and I was very happy to find they were useful more than once.

The red sling-backs are my absolute favourite. I think it’s because the six-year-old that still lives in me thought they were soooooo elegant when she saw them in magazine pictures. Of course, no one she knew ever wore anything that stylish!

Anyway, I keep these out of the box, on display so she can enjoy them daily. (If I had room, I’d keep all the shoes on display. But I don’t, so that’s why my kids will find the boxes. Now that I think of it, I’m going to put a copy of this post in the box, so they’ll know why I kept such things.)

The men’s shoes also have stories. Like the red shoes, brown leather slippers were never worn by people I knew, automatically making them intriguingly exotic in my mind.

The felt boots behind them, just like those my Grandpa wore, were perfect in “Of Mice and Men.”

I created the spectator shoes for “Guys and Dolls” by painting light shoe dye on the main part of basic black brogues. A small touch, but soul-satisfying!

These two pairs of oxfords are custom-made shoes that would never fit anyone but the intended wearer.  The pair on the left is the narrowest pair of men’s shoes I have ever seen! It’s hard to convey in a photo. The shoe is size 11, and only 3 inches (7.6 cm) wide. That’s 25% narrower than the average width for a size 11 shoe.

The pair on the right is HUGE, which is why I set them on a ruler. To the toe cap, minus the protruding sole, it is 13 1/2 inches (34.3 cm) long. North American shoe size charts go up to size 17, which is 13″ (33 cm) long. At 1/2 inch (1.3 cm) longer than that, this pair of shoes is size 18.

Other things they’ll find in my storage room…

  • Archive of my work ~ Printed materials I produced over the years, including books, pamphlets, food photos, and project proposals. They saw bits and pieces of these things as they were growing up, but this gives them a big picture of the body of my work.
  • Memorabilia of my kids ~  Artwork, cards they gave me, notes sent when they were away, and miscellaneous bits. I think that discovering these will connect them with their younger selves and reinforce how special they are to me.
  • Empty boxes, because you never know when you’ll need them. And besides, they’ll be useful when they pack up my things to move them on.
  • Milk jugs filled with water, which could be essential in an emergency. A bit of a nuisance for them to dispose of, but water can easily be poured out and the empty jugs can go into my recycling.
  • Some junk, but not too much.

What are you storing?

Things with stories? Things you think your family might want? Stuff-and-junk? What will your family learn about you as they go through it? What will they learn about themselves? Please share…

What does normal dying look like?

*** Time for this post? Reading…2 minutes. Viewing…4 minutes. Revisiting the video…as often as you need to.

I’ve never seen someone die. I probably will in the next while. I don’t know what to expect. So I’ve been looking into it and have found some reassuring information.

Dying is not as bad...

Kathryn Mannix is a medical doctor, who has worked as a palliative care consultant in hospices, hospitals, and in patients’ own homes. From this experience, she has written With the End in Mind. Here’s an excerpt from her description of it:

Dying is a bodily process. Just like pregnancy and birth, it has recognisable stages of progression. We can recognise the progress of life-limiting illness; we can predict, less reliably early on yet with increasing accuracy as death comes closer. It’s usually possible to gather the right people in time, and help them to prepare, because for most of us, dying affects not only the dying person but also their dear ones. Whether or not we are related to the people we hold most dear, dying is a ‘family affair.’…

My life in palliative care has shown me that the process of dying is made less frightening and more peaceful, the better prepared we are. Knowing what to expect, and knowing what our dear ones will see as we die, helps people to plan, to speak to each other openly and honestly, and to relax. It also helps people to enjoy each day as it arises, instead of fearing a sudden and unexpected onset of dying, because usually, death approaches us gradually.

I usually write a conclusion, but I think she’s said it all. I hope you found this helpful.

When is enough enough?

***Time for this post?  Reading… 8 minutes.  Viewing…12 minutes. Exploring what is deeply satisfying to you…as long as it takes.

It’s not easy to know when to call it quits, to speak up and change course when we’ve had enough.  This bold action requires us to think deeply about what’s important, and to take a stand for it…even when those around us have a different opinion about what we should do.

We are not enculturated to live—or die—on our own terms.

How much is enough?

… “enough” is not a number—it’s what is deeply satisfying.

The above quote is from Conscious Spending, Conscious Life, my book about using our resources intentionally. It helps us all navigate the consumer culture without being consumed by it.

As I learn more about the way we die in the West, I keep seeing parallels between consumption of consumer goods and our engagement with healthcare services. In both cases, we can end up being used by the system rather than served by it.

One of the primary skills for making our way through the consumer culture is the ability to discern when enough is enough. Conscious awareness is what saves us from being used by the system.

We must become clear about what we consider fundamentally important for a good life. In most cases, this is found in our values—not in things or pills.

Medicalization…

Healthcare is highly driven by consumerist values.These days, many treatments are possible and we can be swept along a long road of suffering just because there’s something more to try.

Medical professionals are trained to save lives, which is exactly what’s needed for dealing with emergencies. But different thinking is required when the medical issue is a chronic condition, terminal illness, or the frailty of old age. Our doctors may encourage us to try everything they have access to in hopes that something “will work” even when rescue from our conditions is not possible.

Pharmaceutical and equipment manufacturers have a vested interest in keeping  us looking for the next new thing. We, as consumers of healthcare, can get caught in the thrall of doing anything and everything to buy more time—without thinking about the price we might pay in unintended consequences.

Rarely are dying people invited to think about what’s important to them and helped to determine which available options will let them live out their lives in alignment with what they really value.

Here’s an exception…

Dr. Atul Gawande is a surgeon, public health researcher, and author of the #1 NY Times bestseller, Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End. Here’s a description from notes about his book:

Modern medicine has transformed the dangers of birth, injury, and infectious disease from harrowing to manageable. But when it comes to the inescapable realities of aging and death, what medicine can do often runs counter to what it should do.

Through eye-opening research and gripping stories of his own patients and family, Gawande reveals the suffering produced by medicine’s neglect of the wishes people might have beyond mere survival.

To find out what those wishes are, we need to ask. We haven’t been asking, but we can learn. Riveting, honest, and humane, this remarkable book, which has already changed the national conversation on aging and death, shows how the ultimate goal is not a good death but a good life—all the way to the very end.

This is not a helpful question…

  • What do you want at the end of your life?

Helpful questions…

The following are better options because they get at a person’s priorities. Medical professionals should be asking them, but we can ask them of ourselves , and adult children can pose these qustions to their parents.

Ask these questions repeatedly over time, because priorities change as a person’s condition changes.

  • Well…what’s your understanding of your condition?
  • So….what are your fears and worries for the future?
  • What are the goals you have if your health should worsen?
  • What trade-offs are you willing to make—and not willing to make?

Let them have the damn cookies…

  • Suffering = No one asking you what matters to you, but telling you how they’re going to treat you.
  • When doctors don’t ask what matters to people, what they are doing to them is out of alignment with their priorities.
  • Medicalized nursing homes do not serve us well. Instead, they should create the freedom for people to make bad choices, talking to them about those choices when necessary.

For a fuller version of Atul Gawande’s approach, watch this lunch-hour presentation at Google. I found it well worth the time.

A good life…all the way to the very end.

Isn’t this what we all want? The tricky part is nurturing the mindset—individually and collectively—that will create a climate for our end of life to be humane instead of medicalized.

This brings up issues of quality of life that we should all be thinking about. Knowing what a good quality of life looks like to you will help you decide when you want to get off the treatment train.

It’s not a question of either fighting or giving up. The way through is for you to decide what is worth fighting for…and it may not be a longer life. It may be a life that best suits you in the time you have left. And only you can know what that will be.

Reset as things change…

Your condition will change and so will treatment options. As new treatments are presented, take a moment—or a day—to reset. Remember what you value most and consider how each option will align with it…or won’t align.

Give yourself permission…

I hope this perspective has given you things to think about, and permission to take a stand for what is right for you. We all deserve that.

Your thoughts?

Alternate Death Traditions

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Enculturation is the process by which individuals learn their group’s culture—through experience, observation, and instruction. It is how traditions evolve.

We all become enculturated, that is, steeped in the way things are done in the society in which we live. It’s what we know, what we get used to, what we think is normal.

How WE do death isn’t the only way…

Caitlin Doughty is a licensed mortician and death acceptance advocate. She is founder of the nonprofit The Order of the Good Death, author of three books, and operates Undertaking LA, an alternative funeral home.

And here’s what they do in South Carolina when someone “has passed”…

Enough said!

Die Wise

*** Time for this post?  Reading… 5 minutes. Viewing…you’ll be surprised how quickly the time passes.

When I wrote my first blog about dying, reader Barb Morin posted this comment…

A master of this subject [thinking about dying] —a self-described dealer in the “death trade” for over 20 years is Canada’s own Stephen Jenkinson. He has written a number of books – the last one called Come of Age and an earlier one entitled Die Wise.

He has a website called orphanwisdom.com and he is currently on tour through North America doing a presentation called “Nights of Grief and Mystery” with a musician named Greg Hoskins.

We recently attended this in Calgary—me and 5 family and friends who were not really looking forward to an uninterrupted 2.5 hours where entry was not allowed after the doors closed, with no intermission . About all I can say is that no one moved for the fastest 2.5 hours in my life and none was “unmoved’” by the content. My husband, who has a reputation for being able to sleep through ANYTHING shortly after it begins and wakes up as the clapping starts, was awake for the entire thing! He even said, “that was really good”!

I’d certainly encourage you to look at him as a resource. He has an NFB film about him and his work called Griefwalker which you can find on YouTube. He also teaches on occasion at Hollyhock Retreat Center on Cortes Island and teaches at his farm in Ontario.

As it happened, Stephen Jenkinson had not yet crossed my path—and I could hardly ignore such a compelling recommendation. Having listened to him on video, today I’m sharing an excellent interview that gives you a sense of what he’s about.

Notable aspects…

This is such a rich conversation, it’s impossible to summarize. Here are some things that leapt out at me…

  • The palliative care system is technologically driven and it shapes our credo of end-of-life care, which is—If you can, you should. It’s a philosophy that has no upside.
  • The “more-time” bargain we make to avoid the end of life has consequences we never imagined.

  • We have messed with the idea of “your time to die.” And so, we don’t die when we are dying…
  • Pneumonia used to be called “the old man’s friend.” Now it is treatable—and treated in the elderly—so we can’t even die from pneumonia anymore.
  • Our description of a “good death” is dictated by the attributes of the death phobia of the culture…
  • We should be asking, not what can we do about dying but what does dying ask of us?
  • Your obligation as your body’s trustee is to learn its ways, including its limits and, later, its dying too…
  • The Balinese tend to their dead in a morning ritual. The evidence of it is everywhere. I encountered this young woman on an early morning walk in Bali, holding a tray of beautifully prepared food that she was about to put out.

What caught your attention?

Stephen Jenkinson does not give us the same-old same-old. What caught your attention? Did you find things to think about?

A little change in social attitude…

*** Time for this post?  Reading…3 minutes. Listening…10 minutes. Considering…at your leisure.

The death phobia that pervades our consumer culture does not serve us well…

We get to indulge in death phobia because commercial interests are right there, ready to step in and do the difficult things for us. In this way, we avoid a lot of discomfort.

But we pay a price for our comfort…and it’s not just in money. We become death illiterate, with no language for what death asks of us and no emotional capacity to recognize that death is asking something of us.

The cultural story…

Research has shown how important our attitude is, both individually and collectively. When enough of us hold a similar point of view, it becomes the cultural story. I like the term meta-narrative—the big over-arching story—because it conveys how pervasive the cultural story about anything can be.

When it comes to death, here are some of the attitudes Westerners are steeped in.

  • Dying is something that happens to us; it isn’t something we do.
  • When you’re dying, you’re not behaving right—You’re supposed to live.
  • We are victims of death.
  • We should battle against death as long as possible.
  • Good things should never end.
  • Dying is akin to failing.

[tweetshare tweet=””[tweetshare tweet=”Attitude is the most important decision you’ll make today.  ~Paul Dughi #death #dying” username=”LauranaRayne”]

Not all cultures tell the same story about death…

Eastern philosophy, for example, has different perspectives that have gradually come into our field of view. The most notable catalyst for this awareness was when The Beatles went to India in 1968 for a training course at the ashram of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.

Although the most famous, The Beatles were not the first Westerners to become intrigued with the Eastern view. Alan Watts, who died in 1973, was a British-born philosopher, writer, and speaker. He’s best known as an early interpreter and popularizer of Eastern philosophy for a Western audience.

Watts moved to the United States in 1938 and began Zen training in New York, then earned a master’s degree in theology,  and was an Episcopal priest before joining the faculty of the American Academy of Asian Studies.

I find it interesting to listen to him, with his unique blend of East/West understanding. It always intrigues me to see how things that seem opposite—like East and West— can be wrapped up together to make a bigger, more coherent and dynamic whole.

Here are some of Alan Watts’ thoughts about death and dying…

“…just the end of you as a system of memory.”

Now isn’t that an intriguing thought! For more of his philosophy that helps us think in another way, here’s a compelling video about accepting death.

Make Friends With Reality

*** Time for this post?  Reading…a minute. Viewing…15 minutes. 

Last week I wrote about how we use euphemisms to replace the word “death” because we consider it a harsh and ugly reality.

What if we did as philosopher-comic Emily Levine did. When faced with a diagnosis of stage IV lung cancer, she looked for ways to make sense of life, living, dying, and death.

A television writer, producer, and filmmaker, Emily Levine spent her life tearing apart classics and physics and pop culture, and then, in trickster fashion, putting them together in ways that got us thinking differently. “Her goal was to short-circuit your mind, to shake you out of your silly old and/or thinking with a little bit of and/and.” Here is her view of death, after she had befriended it:

’I’ am just a collection of particles that is arranged into this pattern, then will decompose and be available, all of its constituent parts, to nature, to reorganize into another pattern. To me, that is so exciting, and it makes me even more grateful to be part of that process.


This talk was posted in April 2018. Emily Levine died on February 3, 2019. Emily’s Universe carries on.

Initiate Straightforward Conversation

*** Time for this post? Reading…10 minutes. Viewing…17 minutes. Considering…as you wish.

Death. Dying. Have you noticed that most people dance around the subject of death when they’re in a situation that puts it in their face—whether it’s their dying or someone else’s.

Case in point—the funeral director I met with a few months ago. I was making my Plan B arrangements in case my body donation doesn’t go through. (This could happen if its condition is unsuitable at the time I die.)

Obviously, I wasn’t prepaying for a funeral since I don’t know whether or not I’ll need their services. But he was willing to meet with me, on that understanding, to fill out the paperwork. There are some tricky questions on the forms that must be submitted when registering a death, and I wanted to make sure the correct answers are on file.

Within minutes, it was obvious that the funeral director was selecting his words carefully in an effort to avoid causing me discomfort. Fair enough, in that we had just met and he was trying to assess where I was coming from.

I helped him out by saying something very direct about my death that let him know he could speak freely. The conversation was much more satisfying after that.

Elders have a responsibility…

I think it’s our responsibility, as elders, to get over ourselves and any preciousness we may feel about dying. Shifting our mindset leads to more constructive behaviours, and we will be modelling a better way for our children,  grandchildren, and perhaps also our friends.

Death phobia…

We Baby Boomers have grown up in a death-phobic culture in which dying has been sanitized and commercialized—like most of our life experiences. This has left us crippled, unable to handle death well. And that’s what our children and grandchildren are learning from us. This is the time for us to turn the tide—to learn what death requires of us and become comfortable talking about it.

I’m not a fan of euphemisms…

In a death-phobic culture, it becomes the norm to use euphemisms—substituting mild, indirect, or vague expressions for those thought to be offensive, harsh, or blunt. Legacy.com, which hosts more than 20 million on-line obituaries, lists the top ten euphemisms used in death notices. If ten isn’t enough, here’s a longer list.

Passed away

Went to be with (the/his/her) Lord

Went home

Departed

Entered eternal rest

Was called home

Left this world

Succumbed

Lost his/her battle

Slipped away

Somehow, the word “die” is culturally perceived as offensive, harsh, and blunt. Yet its actual definition is straightforward: To cease functioning, to stop living or existing, to undergo the complete and permanent cessation of all vital functions.

Verbal tranquilizers?

Euphemistic expressions for death and dying have been described as “verbal tranquilizers” and I think it’s a fair description of how we attempt to avoid what are seen as harsh realities.

In her excellent article about whether euphemisms are helpful or harmful, social worker Esther Heerema says:

…using the word “dead” makes it difficult to deny the reality. And, psychologically, while denial clearly needs to turn to acceptance, a little bit of denial is not all bad as a short-term coping mechanism. Indirect language can sometimes be a helpful way to mentally and emotionally handle your feelings gradually.

She also points out that euphemisms may be used for reasons other than denial. These include protection, to avoid being rude or offensive, to avoid discomfort, to offer spiritual comfort, or because of our own grief.

Her article highlights several considerations, including using euphemisms with children and principles for knowing when direct communication is the best choice.

Using euphemisms when speaking to children about death is usually not recommended. While the intention is to be gentle and protect the child from additional pain, indirect language is often confusing to a child. A euphemism involving terms such as “asleep” or “rest” might cause them to misunderstand and become fearful of going to bed at night. Similarly, saying, “We lost Uncle Fred last night” could prevent the child from comprehending that the person died and instead prompt them to go looking for Uncle Fred because he’s “lost.”

…When you should use direct language: The words death, dead, and dying should be used when it’s important to be very clear about what is happening. This includes when critical medical decisions are being made based on the prognosis of the patient, when speaking with those who might not fully understand indirect language, and when there might be a language barrier that might hinder understanding.

Talking about death over dinner…

Death Over Dinner, an initiative by Michael Hebb, is a deliberate opportunity to talk with others about death. For the past 20 years, Hebb has been working to “understand the secrets of human connection. His projects have turned into international movements and impacted millions. His second book Let’s Talk About Death was published in 2018.”

Why dinner?

You might wonder why anyone would have a conversation about death over dinner. Here’s how it’s explained on the Death Over Dinner website:

The dinner table is the most forgiving place for difficult conversation. The ritual of breaking bread creates warmth and connection, and puts us in touch with our humanity. It offers an environment that is more suitable than the usual places we discuss end of life.

So, it’s an intriguing idea. What I really like is how they’ve created a structure that helps you plan an event tailored to your interest in the subject. After filling in a simple questionnaire, you receive practical planning and hosting help, including

  • Suggested dinner invitation text, including the read/watch/listen resources you chose to share with your guests
  • Proposed conversation prompts for your dinner
  • Post-dinner activities and ways to share your experience with the community

Learn more…

The cool thing is you can try this out even if you don’t go ahead with the dinner. I found it a really good way to gain perspective on the breadth of the topic of dying, to review the variety of resources they have included, and see what conversation starters they suggested. I highly recommend checking it out at deathoverdinner.org

You can get more of the back story in a 2016 article in The Atlantic or the book that was published near the end of 2018. Or listen to Michael Hebb himself…

What do you think?

Would you be inclined to organize a dinner to talk about death? If not, do you wonder why you wouldn’t? That might be revealing…

Managing your completed death documents…

You’ve ticked off the items on your checklist.

You’ve done a happy dance.

And now you have a pile of important papers sitting on your desk. Several are original signed documents. Leaving them there doesn’t seem prudent.

What to do with your documents?

These three principles will help you decide what makes sense.

1  Safety 

Your documents should be stored where they are safe from fire, theft, or simply being misplaced.

2  Accessibility

Your documents should be easily accessed by your executor (as named in your Will), by your Attorney* (as named in your Power of Attorney), by your agent (as named in your Personal Directive, Living Will) and your supporters (as named in your Supported Decision-Making Authorization).  *The use of “attorney” in this context does not mean your lawyer. It refers to the person(s) you have designated to handle your financial affairs when you can’t.

3  Information

All relevant people should have copies and know where the originals are stored. If this involves combinations, passwords or keys, they should have that information too.

Things to think about…

Your Will ~ After you’ve died, the executor needs a working copy to begin wrapping up your affairs. The signed original is required when the application for Letters Probate is made. Where should you store it? Here are some things to consider…

  • The lawyer who drew up your Will may be able to store it for you.
  • A safety deposit box in your bank is another possibility. However, don’t put it there until you check with the bank about conditions under which they can release the will. The law generally requires that a safety deposit box be sealed until probate is granted. Yet the executor needs the original Will to submit with the application to obtain probate, and you don’t want it locked up in a bank where you can’t get it out. Your bank may allow supervised removal of the Will immediately after death. But make sure this is the case before storing it there.
  • The executor may be required to prove he or she is the named person by producing a photocopy of the Will along with photo identification,  Therefore, it’s crucial to make sure that each of your executors has a copy of your Will.
  • You might be able to handle the accessibility issue by registering your executors as co-signers on your safety deposit box. Of course, that could mean they will have access to the box even when you are alive. Best thing is to discuss this idea with your banker, explaining what you are trying to achieve.
  • Wherever you store your Will, provide your executor(s) with a copy—and note at the top where the original is stored. If that is a safety deposit box, also note where the key is kept. If the executor does not have a key, there is a substantial charge to drill open the box.
  • If you keep your Will in a fireproof, non-portable safe at home, make sure more than one family member has the combination or knows where the key is.

Your Power of Attorney ~ Your Power of Attorney document is needed when you are unable to look after your financial affairs. Instead of making photocopies of a single signed original, your lawyer may recommend that you sign an original for each of your attorneys for their convenience in having a signed original with them whenever they go to an institution to act on your behalf. In addition, you need a signed original that you will store in a safe, accessible place.

Distribution…

Signed documents

  1. Anyone named as your representative in a document should have either a copy or an original of it.
  2. If it’s  a photocopy, note on the top where the original is stored and provided access information in a way that keeps it secure—i.e. don’t put the combination to your home safe on the top of the photocopy!
  3. In some cases, a signed original is convenient for your representative to have. This applies to the Power of Attorney, Personal Directive, and Supported Decision-Making Authorization. Ask your lawyer if this is possible for the Power of Attorney. For the other two, make the number of copies you’ll need and have both you and your witness sign all of them.

Unsigned, self-generated documents

Some of the documents I recommend are not required by law but are helpful to your survivors. They include your Paper Trail, Last Wishes Letter, encrypted file of passwords and other sensitive information, and health history.

The principle here s to distribute them so they are not just stored in one place.  This ensures both safety and accessibility.

Access is particularly important because some of the information will be needed immediately after death—your last wishes about disposition of your body, for example, and what sort of funeral arrangements you want or don’t want. Even if you have given your family verbal instructions, it’s best to have it in writing because people remember conversations differently at the best of times, and even more so when under stress.

Review and update …

[tweetshare tweet=”Divorce doesn’t automatically cancel your Will. Marriage does in many places. There are unintended consequences in both cases. The take-away—revise your Will when you experience any major life change.” username=”LauranaRayne”]Major life changes should trigger an update.

  • Divorce  To many people’s surprise, divorce doesn’t automatically cancel your Will. As you might imagine, this can lead to unintended consequences.
  • Marriage On the other hand, marriage automatically revokes your Will in some jurisdictions. When you think about it, this makes sense because, once  married, a person has different obligations. A new Will should be made as soon as possible after marriage. If it isn’t, the person will die without a Will and the estate will be handled under intestacy legislation, which often results in things not happening the way you would have wanted.
  • Your children have married, you have grandchildren This may change your list of beneficiaries and how you want your assets to be distributed.

Schedule a yearly review.

I learned this good habit from my friend Diane, who has mastered the art of staying on top of things and keeping them in order. I’ve taken a page from her book, and am now reviewing my documents at the beginning of each new year.

Sometimes I’ve had very few revisions. But last year I had cataract surgery, switched to a new optometrist, and decided to donate my body to medical education.

The relevant changes have been incorporated into my documents, I’ve put revised copies in my file, and have given a set to each of my kids to replace the previous version. It feels like a big accomplishment!

So… when yours are all distributed, pat yourself on the back and give yourself 17 points for…

Good work!