|I knew all those photos I took at|
the cemetery were going to
come in handy.
1. Everybody's name should be on every account.
I had to send death certificates to the most unlikely of places--my phone company, for instance--to get customer service to even talk to me, because most of our stuff was in Chadwick's name. (For entirely un-sexist reasons, I would add; I was the primary breadwinner so he took care of stuff like talking to the electric company.) It never occurred to us that we were effectively locking me out of all our accounts. In fact, if you have a next of kin who you trust, having a third authorized person on the account who might be slightly less distraught and more clear-headed for speaking to your rubbish collector is a good idea. Also, this seems as good a place as any to point out that you'll have some extra paperwork to do at tax time for a couple years. (Death and taxes, though--the IRS has customer service folks who are great at this. Call them. They're so kind and incredibly helpful.)
2. Similarly, share your passwords. To everything.
I mean, if you don't already have access to each other's accounts anyway, that's probably something you should talk about. I'm all for respecting each other's space, but to keep passwords secret is to invite some problems in. However! The real point here is that if you're felled by serious injury, hospitalization, or worse, your spouse will probably need to get into your computer sooner or later. Make sure passwords are stored somewhere everyone can get them.
3. Any special instructions/bequests need to be written down.
I'm lucky enough not to have had interfering relatives on either side of the family. (Of course, they were all far away, so...) But if you think there may be a relative, friend, neighbor, etc. who will muscle in at the worst possible time to claim Great-Aunt Myrtle's antique vase as his or her own, make sure your spouse has some ammunition to fight back. People as young as I am may not want to go to the bother and expense of writing a formal will (unless you have a condition that you know will shorten your time on this earth), but at least write some stuff down.
4. Know your rights.
I can't speak to same-sex couples, couples of different nationalities, common-law marriages, separated/blended families, or others that are outside my experience, so I urge you: do your research for your particular situation and make sure all your bases are covered. Y'all may be in need of legal documents that I didn't necessarily have to have.
5. If you have any ideas for a final send-off, it's never too early to say so.
The only things Chadwick and I talked about ahead of time were donating organs and the tree-planting thing. The first one obviously had to be dealt with right away, but I still haven't planted a tree (I have three places in mind, but haven't spoken to any of the property owners about the possibility of putting a memorial tree there. It's not like he's going to get any less dead, right?). We ended up having a Lord of the Rings-themed funeral, not on purpose, but we're pretty sure it's exactly what he would have wanted. Here's a hint: building a barricade at my funeral would not be inappropriate.
6. You're not going to be ready for the stupid stuff people say.
Similarly, your experience will not stop you from saying stupid stuff in your turn next time tragedy strikes someone you care about. It's part of being human, so unless it's a person who has a history of being thoughtless/causing trouble/etc., and as long as they don't repeat the ugliness over and over, let it go. If it's either of those two things, it's okay to reduce or cut off altogether the time you spend with them.
7. You're not going to be ready for the outpouring of kindness.
Tell the first person who asks, "What can I do?" to bring over some tissues. You're going to need them for more than just the obvious reasons. Humans can rise to amazing heights when called to it. Be willing to let people do things for you that you can't do for yourself.
8. You're going to need a Keely.
Any you can't have mine! A good friend who is a solid rock in times of crisis is invaluable. Keely could take on all nine Nazgûl by herself and come out having kicked some undead backsides into oblivion. You shouldn't be going through life without a Keely, anyway, so get to work on finding one of those. (And on being one of those for someone, of course.)
9. Dying is expensive.
Your bank account is going to take a ding. It's a bummer, but it's true--those of us under 50 generally haven't started paying for a funeral, burial plot, etc. I managed a funeral on the cheap, so it can be done, but you'll still have to shell out some cash. Even for younger and/or childless folks, a small life insurance policy may be worth it to cover final expenses should the worst happen. (If you have children, you should already have a policy.) Your credit score will likely fluctuate as well when you change all your joint accounts to individual ones. Also, that bill you get for the final ambulance ride/ER trip/DOS pronouncement is going to be the worst bill of your life.
10. You have hidden depths within you.
I still hear "You're the strongest person I know" or some variation thereof from time to time. While I do think the folks saying that must not know many people, I appreciate the sentiment behind it. Comparatively speaking, I had it easy--no children to parent through grief, no house to decide to keep or not, no meddling or blame from the in-laws (and I've heard some horror stories on that front!). Your journey, if it comes, may be harder. But you have the strength within you to walk the path, as awful as it is.