On Tuesday, I got to attend an end of life preparedness presentation by Lashanna Williams of A Sacred Passing. Lashanna is an end-of-life educator, Death Doula, and massage therapist. She talked about what she does as a death doula, which is to help people organize their affairs before they die. Not only is it important to have all your documents legally completed before the end of life, but there are many nuanced considerations to decide so that someone can depart in a loving and supportive way.
I got to discuss this topic prior to the presentation with a few other professional organizers. We all knew that it was important to have an up-to-date will, a power of attorney, a medical power-of-attorney, and beneficiary forms completed. Some of us had these documents completed, and some didn’t. We talked about access to passwords, social media accounts, and including loved ones on bank accounts. One of the organizers in our group had actually been the power of attorney for one of her organizing clients. The client didn’t have any family, and the bond that they created through their working relationship proved that this organizer was a loving and trustworthy individual. If you’ve ever seen the horrifying Netflix movie, “I Care A Lot”, you know how scary it can be when guardianship goes to a stranger. The premise of the story is that a fraudulent “guardian” had been appointed through an emergency court hearing. This had been orchestrated by a doctor who was in cahoots with the [illegal] guardian. The elderly person who had been taken advantage of was forbidden to talk to her family, and put on heavy doses of medication, while the guardian stole millions of dollars from her. Lashanna let us know that this type of illegal activity actually happens! It had actually happened to a family member of another professional organizer in our group too. This is one of many reasons to make sure your documentation is in order, and in a place that can easily be located. Another one of the organizers let us know that she had been tasked to help a client with hoarding behavior locate her birth certificate, will, and other important legal papers. She was able to finally find them, but they had been buried under 10’ of clutter.
Lashanna taught us about how and why death can be such a hard topic to discuss. Not only can it be very emotional for people, but capitalism and gatekeeping keep the funeral industry alive. Laws have been created to say who can tend to the dead. This perpetuates the division between life and death, and keeps the taboo about death alive. Since the process of death is almost always removed from the home, it creates more distance between the person who is dying and their loved ones. It’s never too early to start having conversations about plans for death.
Here are some questions to talk about:
With permission from Lashanna, I am including resources from the document she sent us. The document includes information about what to do when someone dies, locating the important paperwork, practical steps, who to notify of death, and additional resources. You can download the full document here: After-a-Death-Occurs-A-Checklist
Here’s a small portion of the information from this valuable document:
Find the deceased’s important papers and documents as soon as possible. If necessary, ask close family, friends, or the deceased’s doctor or lawyer if they know where these important papers can be found, and the location of a bank safety deposit box, if any.
In Washington State safety deposit boxes of the deceased are not sealed. Anyone who has legal access has the right to open the safety deposit box. (See the For More Information section at the end of this document to learn what to do if there is no one available with access to the safety deposit box.)
If there is a Will, notify the Personal Representative named in the Will (and the Trustee, if named in a trust) right away. The Personal Representative is responsible for taking care of the deceased’s estate and for following the terms of the Will, while the Trustee is responsible for managing the trust. Sometimes the Personal Representative is called the “Executor” or “Executrix”.
In Washington, a valid and signed Will must be filed with the Superior Court, usually in the deceased’s county of residence, within 30 days of the death. This is an extremely important step to complete if there is a Will. If there is a Will and/or trust, give all of the important papers to the Personal Representative and/or Trustee as soon as possible. If there is no Will, the court will administer the estate according to Washington State law. (FYI, If you’re ready to create your will, or want to update your existing will, I recommend contacting Brent Williams-Ruth.)
In addition to the will, here are additional documents you’ll need to have:
Including most recent statements for all accounts and the list of Beneficiaries, if any.
For additional information, you can contact Lashanna Williams at firstname.lastname@example.org or 206.494.0023. Her website is ASacredPassing.org.
Do you have your paperwork in order? Send me a message, I’d love to hear about it!
By Jean Prominski, Certified Professional Organizer
Download my free 5 week journal The Seattle Sparkle Method to Get Organized and Stay Organized
Sign up for my free 4 Day Color to Declutter Challenge.
Become part of a like-minded community by joining my Facebook Group, Declutter and Organize with Seattle Sparkle.
Ready to book a consultation? Complete this form.