I’ve tried for years to entice a friend into co-writing a book called The Dead Parent File. It would be a folksy look at the pitfalls of dying with your financial and legal affairs in disarray and guidance on getting them in order. Sort of a companion to the Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning, with the emphasis on accounts and documents rather than furnishing and memorabilia.
My intended co-author has been resolute in her refusals. No cajoling, trading on a long friendship or repeated reminders of her natural talents and impressive credentials sway her. “Yes, I’m funny and a good writer. Yes, I’m an experienced lawyer. Yes, I’m personally acquainted with the pitfalls, having served as executor numerous times. Yes, a book like this would be useful to many. And yes, we might be interviewed on The Today Show. But no, I don’t have time to write it!”
So I’ve scaled back my ambitions and I’m going it alone. If Margareta Magnsson, the author of Swedish Death Cleaning can find her voice at eighty plus years, I will celebrate getting a Medicare card by introducing The Dead Parent File. As any sane reader will know, what I’m telling you is only a starting point. But it’s a good start. Your financial advisor, accountant and attorney will be happy to fill in the details.
I’ve had an actual file labeled “DEAD PARENT” for years. I update it at least once a year. You might say, macabre. I think not. Our children were a little squeamish when they first learned about it. But even as teenagers, they knew it would be useful, but hopefully no time soon. So far so good.
What is a dead parent file (DPF) and why should you have one? The obvious answer to why is that we’re all going to die. And no matter how uncomplicated your life seems, your loved ones will be left holding the bag. And what is the DPF? It’s an up-to-date record of all the things that live in bank and investment accounts, and safety deposit boxes. It’s insurance information and employment contracts. It’s wills, powers-of-attorney, health care POA, living wills. It’s account numbers, passwords, important contacts, location of safety deposit box keys. It’s a list of things that need canceling lest you get soaked for membership fees for someone who is no longer among the quick. It’s details on how you want to be remembered and sent on your way. It’s all of this and depending on your circumstances, more.
It doesn’t have to be overwhelming though. A word document is enough. It is the overview or outline of what your loved ones will need when the time comes. (“When the time comes” is often used to mean that “the time” might not ever come so let’s not worry about anything unpleasant now. I assure you, this time will come.) And what a lovely gift to those who remain that you’ve tidied things up for them! Who better to clean up any messes you’ve made than you?
My scaled-back ambitions produced just an essay, but hopefully that’s enough for you to make the Dead Parent File a part of your life. I still think a book would be a good idea. The subtitle would be “ Inquiring Minds Should Want To Know”.
Thanks to Margareta Magnusson for writing The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning. It didn’t catch on like Japanese Tiding Up, but I loved it. And your loved ones will love you for taking care of your things so they don’t have to.