It’s not a pleasant scene: You are in a hospital bed, clinging to life, and just outside your room your family members are arguing whether or not you would want to be kept alive by a respirator and, given the likelihood that you will die, would you want your organs donated.

Or how about this unpleasant scene: hours after you die, your family members arrive at your home to begin searching through your belongings looking for all the papers they will need. They are saddened by your death. But, at the moment, they are frustrated that you had never told anyone of your wishes nor the location of your important “death day” documents.

Do you have insurance? Of course you do. The average person today carries insurance on life, auto, home, and belongings. However, do you have Death Insurance? Never heard of it? Am I one of those pesky insurance agents? Sort of, but what I have to “sell” I receive no commission nor profit. Read on.

Death Insurance is defined as the answers to the question: Have I sat down with my close family members and discussed the following?

  1. What if I suddenly became so debilitated that I had to be kept alive by a machine and there was no chance of my survival? Would I want to be hooked up in the first place? In other words have I filled out a form called a Living Will?
  2. If I died today, would my property and money go to the people I wish to have it? That is, do I have a will?
  3. Have I discussed what I would like to have done to my body after I die, such as organ donation, funeral (body present) or memorial (body absent) service, cremation, burial?
  4. If I became seriously ill or died today, who knows where my important papers are located such as the information listed in #1-3 above, my bills, auto and home ownership documents, military discharge document (called DD214), life insurance papers, location of safe deposit box, and bank statements?
  5. If I died today, to which people in my life would I have regretted not saying the following words: “I love you.” “Thank you.” “Here is what having you in my life has meant to me.”?

So, here is a very personal question for you: How is your Death Insurance policy? Were you able to go through #1-5 and honestly say, “I’m prepared.” to each one? By the way, right at this moment, what are your feeling as you read this? Anxious, irritated, frustrated, comfortable? Whatever you’re feeling, please stay with me as we briefly look at each of the five areas.

#1—Go online and find a copy of a Living Will. It’s usually 1-2 pages and takes only a few minutes to fill in the blanks. Some forms require two witnesses. Other similar forms require a notary to witness you signature. Either one is fine. Most states will accept either one.

#2—If you die without a will (called intestate—60-70% of all Americans do), your property and money will go to your next of kin. If you are married and you live in what is called a Community Property State (go online to see if your state is on the list), it will all go to your spouse. If you do not live in one of those states, go online and find the provisions specific to your situation. If you are divorced or widowed, your money and property will be divided evenly with each of your children—that is, after all the debts have been paid. If you are not married nor have children, the court will decide who is next in line. Will kits (fill-in-the-blank) are available online for a fee. Or, you can contact an attorney who specializes in wills.

#3—If you died today, who would be responsible for your body as noted above? Given that you know your death could occur at any time, what do you need to say to this person today? Telling this person what you want done with your body does not mean that you want your death to occur anytime soon. It is a way to say, “I care for you and, if I die before you, I want to spare you excess pain and hassle.” Take out a sheet of paper and answer question #3.

#4—Then do the same thing with #4.  Consider how thankful your loved ones would feel if they pulled out a folder of yours with all the information they needed at their fingertips.

#5—Yes, you know that you will someday die. And you are aware that you could die today. Don’t wait for death to trick you. Begin working on your Death Insurance now. Do #1-4. But also begin working on #5. Here are some suggestions:

  1. There are some people in your life that you haven’t thanked or haven’t thanked enough. You know who they are. You don’t have to buy a Hallmark card. Just take out a piece of paper and begin writing. Tell this person how much you appreciate what they have meant to you or done for you. Or thank them for just being who they are.
  2. Who in your life do you need to say, “I love you.” Or “I care for you.”? Perhaps you feel uncomfortable or feel that this is a risk for you. However, if you or they died today, you would miss this opportunity to finally tell them—or let them know one more time—how you feel. It doesn’t have to be a long note and, for goodness sake, don’t say something like, “I [or you] might die today, so I want to tell you something.” Chances are they will wonder what’s come over you. And if you start to explain to them about Death Insurance, well, they might think you’ve really gone off the deep end.
  3. Write something. Texts, phone calls and emails are nice. But they can fade or be deleted. A note is enduring. Also, before you mail the note make a copy for yourself. In 1988, a few years before my mother came down with cancer, I decided to write her a thank-you note. The “note” ended up being eight pages. I thanked her for giving me birth, for putting up with my teen years, for being a good mom—all that kind of stuff. I made a copy for myself and gave the original to her. She died in 1991, and a few months later I was going through some of her papers and—there it was. So, it’s mine again. I felt so good knowing that she knew how much I appreciated her. There was no way back in 1988 that I thought my mother would be dead three years later at age 67.

As you come to the end of this article, it will be easy to put it down and move to other activities saying, “Yes, he makes some good points. I’ll get to them.” Remember, no one wakes up dead. When death hits you, it’s too late. Begin the steps now to work on your Death Insurance. If you get to work on the above steps, you can do something most people never do—trick death. So, get going. Death is watching, wondering who’s going to get tricked. Don’t let Death win, laughing at your loved ones as they stand there after you die, wondering why you didn’t act when you still had a chance.

Bob Baugher

Bob Baugher, Ph.D., is a Psychology Instructor at Highline Community College in Des Moines, Washington where he teaches courses in Psychology and Death Education. As a trainer for LivingWorks he has trained more than 1,000 people in suicide intervention. He has given more than 600 workshops on grief and loss across the U.S. including England, South Africa, and Namibia. As a professional advisor to the South King County Chapter of The Compassionate Friends, Bob has been invited to speak at many of the TCF national conferences during the past 20 years. He earned a certificate in Thanatology from the Association for Death Education and Counseling and in the 1990s he was a clinician with University of Washington School of Nursing Parent Bereavement Project. Bob has written several articles and seven books on the bereavement process. Reach him at Dr. Baugher appeared on the radio show "Healing the Grieving Heart" with Dr. Gloria & Dr. Heidi Horsley to discuss Coping with Anger and Guilt After a Loss.

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