How to Get Your Affairs in Order

Thinking ahead about what you will leave behind. 

Close up of purple flower blooming in dirt to signify choosing an eco conscious funeral.

Many people begin thinking seriously about their mortality as they age. Others are prompted to consider it after experiencing the loss of a loved one. When a parent or other relative passes away and leaves behind a mess of unfinished business for you to deal with, you might resolve to do things differently for your own loved ones.Many people begin thinking seriously about their mortality as they age. Others are prompted to consider it after experiencing the loss of a loved one. When a parent or other relative passes away and leaves behind a mess of unfinished business for you to deal with, you might resolve to do things differently for your own loved ones.

As a society, we don’t like to talk about death, or even think about it. Yet it’s one of the few things in life that we’re all guaranteed to experience at some point.

Thinking about what happens after you’re gone isn’t macabre. It’s a blessing to your family. It saves them the hassle of searching your house for important paperwork, or arguing over whether you wanted to be buried or cremated. Grief is already a time of heavy emotion; having to piece together documents and make timely decisions makes a painful time even more stressful.

Getting your affairs in order – from organizing your financial documents to preplanning your funeral – is a gift to the people you leave behind.

Start by gathering your important documents

One of the first things you can do to put your affairs in order is to organize your important paperwork, documentation, and information: 

  • Gather all essential documents such as birth certificates, marriage licenses, deeds, titles, military records, Social Security cards, etc., and make copies.
  • Create a list of all your important contacts and people who might need to be notified in an emergency, like your doctor, accountant, financial advisor, relatives, close friends, etc.
  • Consider using a program like LastPass to manage your digital account passwords, or just write them down on paper and store them somewhere safe.

Be sure that this information is accessible and secure. Avoid putting vital documents in a safety deposit box or other location a loved one cannot easily access. A locked safe in your bedroom, with a key given to a trusted relative or friend, is a better option. 

It’s also wise to set up an advance directive for healthcare decisions and make plans for what happens to your estate. Even if you don’t have a lot of assets to manage, it’s a good idea to sit down with an estate lawyer to draft a will and other legal documents to be sure everything is in order.  

Consider the intangible things you leave behind

Your estate is important, but it’s just a tiny part of your life. There are other, arguably more valuable, things you can leave behind, like wisdom and personal experience. A growing trend in end-of-life planning is the creation of “ethical wills” or “legacy letters.” 

An ethical will is a document meant to be read by your loved ones after your death. It’s a way to impart final wisdom to your relations. It’s also a part of you they can hold onto once you’re gone. 

Some things you might want to consider when writing this type of document include:

  • What are some cherished memories or family stories you’d like to share?
  • What life lessons could you impart? Were there mistakes you learned from?
  • Are there cultural traditions you’d like to pass on to future generations?
  • Favorite quotes, songs, poems, psalms, and other words of wisdom?
  • Any forgiveness and amends you wish to give or receive?

The actual document of an ethical will can take any shape, from an informal letter to your children, to a multimedia video essay about your life. It can reflect your sense of humor and personality. You can share a family recipe, talk about how you’ve seen the world change, or leave specific advice for your kids, grandkids, and future generations who have yet to be born. Think about what you wish you knew about your great-grandparents. What would you have asked them about their lives if you had a chance? You have the opportunity now to pass that information forward to your own future relations.

Even if you don’t decide to write an ethical will, the process of thinking about what you’d like to say can help you to live more intentionally and come to a better grasp of what matters to you.

Planning for what happens after you’re gone

Your funeral is another opportunity to express your values and leave a lasting impression on your family. When you plan your funeral in advance, you can create an event that reflects what matters most to you. Do you want your body laid to rest in an eco-friendly manner? Do you want donations made in your name to a specific cause? Does a small family gathering fit your personality better than a big funeral open to the community? You can make these decisions in advance, based on your priorities, and save your loved ones the trouble of trying to guess how to best honor your life.

Your funeral is also when your friends and family will gather to mourn your passing. It’s a time to shed tears and swap stories, not stress over logistics and finances. Eliminating some of the more tedious parts of funeral planning gives your family a chance to focus on the moment and comfort each other. In this way, planning your funeral arrangements in advance is an act of care.

French Funerals & Cremations offers funeral services and preplanning assistance to families throughout the Albuquerque area. If you have questions about preplanning or don’t know how to get started, you can call us at 1-505-275-7200. We also make it easy to begin preplanning online.


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