Not the most encouraging words to hear on the radio two days after Christmas Day, but, upon further listening, I found that it was an advert for insurance to cover funeral-type expenses. Which got me thinking….

Some people regard death as a taboo and morbid subject, and I find that understandable, but it’s going to happen, and maybe when we’re least expecting it, so it may just be a good idea to make some preparations, however discreetly you choose to do this.

As it happens, I already have a policy which will will cover my modest funeral requirements, and hopefully leave enough over for those near and dear to have a wake, and play some good music – live and recorded. I wish I could be there!!

A natural extension of funeral requirements is what one leaves behind at the specific moment – stuff, mostly of no consequence to those picking up the pieces and much of it bound for charity shops or the council bonfire, with hopefully precious little to go to landfill. The significant memories such as photographs, paintings, scripts, recordings etc will have homes amongst the family, and should serve as a proper reminder of the person. And I still plan additions to this little lot 🙂 ….

However, it’s the other ‘stuff’ that could be the nightmare to those left behind. You may even have direct experience of this yourself – I know I have, trying to sort a close relation’s very full room’s worth of paperwork with my wife and her sister. Not something I would recommend to anyone, especially someone with a streak of organisational ability, which I already have.

I am conscious that the death of a family member is more often that not a traumatic affair, especially in those weeks immediately after the event when one can find it difficult to act and think straight. And, of course, it’s in these very weeks that you need clarity of mind and purpose whilst ‘sorting out the deceased’s affairs’. Where to start?

In the case of Sue and I, we have been forward-thinking enough to give an organisational leg-up to those who are responsible for the sorting, .

And before I describe this, I have been in the habit of asking those I know well enough, what plans they have made. These people are invariably well-educated, successful in their own fields, rational, sensible, and good to have as friends. My question is more often than not by a blank expression or a distinct lack of enthusiasm for discussing the matter further – my solicitor has a copy of my Will…..there’s a file at home which some papers in…..I don’t want to think about it. So generally not uber-helpful to those following on behind.

Yes, we have a Will, and we have a box(es) of papers sitting on a shelf in the home office, and these will undoubtedly help…..to a point.

But what we do have is a simple document entitled Important Things To Know. The only mountain to climb was pulling all the Important Things together in the first place. Once done, it becomes a simple maintenance issue, being updated whenever there is a significant change/addition. Taken in isolation, it is a wonderfully cathartic exercise, and a significant load off our backs as the years go by. Our children know that there is a printed copy sitting in a particular place that they can refer to come the day – or actually at any time. We have nothing to hide.

To give you a flavour of the contents of Important Things To Know:-

LEGAL – Solicitor’s and Executors’ contact details, whereabouts of Will document, Accountant’s contact details. Also HMGov contact points and other free online services if needed for advisory reasons

FINANCE – all bank/investment account numbers and locations, insurance policies, pension arrangements and providers, debit/credit cards, finance agreements, investments/savings etc We don’t include balances specifically, as these change day-to-day

HOUSEHOLD – Property value and status, Buildings/Contents/Car insurances inc whereabouts of documents and expiry dates, Gas/Electricity suppliers, Phone contracts etc

FUNERAL INSTRUCTIONS – these may be very specific, and the final wishes are important

SCHEDULE OF VALUABLES – we have a list of paintings, as an example

PASSWORDS/CODES – access to much of the above may only be obtained simply by knowing these. We have a separate, secure document with all of these (hopefully up-to-date!). This will save much heartache

You will get the idea from the above listing – yes, there is work involved in pulling it all together, but the benefits of doing so are manifold, both for the now and for the future.

Death is hard – make it softer….