“I told my neighbor I was taking this workshop, and she said, ‘I’m not doing a thing. They can figure it all out after I’m gone.’”
A member of my Organizing Your Life and Legacy workshop shared this comment with our group, and we all shook our heads sadly. The comment doesn’t surprise us—death has become a taboo subject in our culture, less open for discussion than politics and sex. Reasons abound for death’s denial and distancing, including fear of death, denial of death, and removal of death from the home to the hospital. And yet, like it or not, we’re all dying.
How Scripture Prepares Us for Death
Christians have an advantage as we prepare for death—we can look to Scripture, which helps us understand why people die and offers us hope for life after death. Death resulted from Adam and Eve’s sin for God had warned them that in the day they ate of the tree, they would “surely die” (Genesis 2:17). Jesus died on a cross for our sins: “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness” (1 Pet. 2:24). Because Jesus rose from the dead, those who trust in him for salvation need no longer fear death: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live…” (John 11:25). Armed with an understanding of death and the confidence of life everlasting, we can face our mortality and prepare for death.
Create a Practical Legacy
Psalm 90:12 exhorts us, “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” One way to number our days is to plan for our death by gathering the essential information our loved ones will need if we are incapacitated or have died. To create what I call a “practical legacy,” divvy up the process into six actionable steps and then schedule times each week or each month to work on them.
- Prepare an advance directive.
Also known as a “living will,” an advance directive helps to guide medical care decisions in the case of incapacitation. It allows you to appoint a health care proxy or surrogate and to indicate what kind of treatment you would wish for or decline in medical crisis. My husband and I have used Five Wishes to prepare ours, but you can also find simple directives on most state or hospital websites. Two books that offer helpful biblical counsel on preparing advance directives are Dr. Bill Davis’ Departing in Peace: Biblical Decision-Making at the End of Life and Dr. Kathryn Butler’s Between Life and Death: A Gospel-Centered Guide to End of Life Medical Care. Considering our own incapacitation and imagining different scenarios at the end of life can be intimidating, but when we clarify and communicate our wishes, we bless our loved ones with an indispensable guide to making difficult decisions at a grievous time.
- Give one trusted person access to your important passwords.
In a day in which phones and other devices hold valuable confidential information, it’s essential to keep them secure with a password and to share that password with one trusted person. Additionally, gather all your essential passwords. While my eighty-three-year-old mother recorded hers in a basic Word document, and that sufficed, most of us will need to use a password keeper like Lastpass or 1Password to contain all of this information more securely.
- Appoint a Durable Power of Attorney.
Appoint someone who will have the legal power to act on your behalf if you are incapacitated or have died. My mother had appointed me as her power of attorney and put my name on her checking account before she died. Thanks to her foresight, paying her bills after her death did not involve jumping through legal hoops. It can help to make your durable power of attorney and health care surrogate the same person.
- Make a will and appoint an executor.
Make a will and appoint someone to oversee handling your affairs after your death. An estate lawyer I spoke with suggests that we visit a lawyer to prepare our wills, noting that online documents do not usually suffice except in the case of very simple estates with few assets.
- Gather essential information.
Not only will your family benefit if you gather all of the details of your life into one place, but you also benefit. Can you imagine the peace of knowing exactly where to locate details about your medical history, personal history, insurance information, titles and deeds, credit cards, bills, and methods of payment, etc.? Although it is not written by a Christian, the book Get It Together: Organize Your Records So Your Family Won’t Have To offers a comprehensive guide to help you in this process.
- Make decisions about burial or cremation and end of life services.
Considering what will happen to our body after we die may be hard for us, but imagine the peace we can give to our loved ones by doing so. One of our workshop participants shared an inspiring story of her twenty-five-year-old niece: her father had died when she was twenty-two, and he had left a practical legacy. She was inspired to write out her own wishes for the end of her life. When she died three years later in a tragic accident, this legacy provided great comfort to her mother in her distress.
While it is daunting to consider the end of our lives, as Christians, we face death with hope, the hope of resurrection. Given that hope, we can enter hard decisions now to prepare a practical legacy that will guide and comfort our loved ones in their season of grief. Call a friend today and encourage and assist one another in the process of preparing a practical legacy. In addition to preparing our practical legacy, we will also want to leave a spiritual legacy, passing on the wisdom we have gained to the next generation. We’ll discuss how to create a spiritual legacy in part two of this series.
*Photo by Melinda Gimpel on Unsplash