Author: Shoshana Berger and BJ Miller
Berger is the co-author with BJ Miller of A Beginner's Guide to the End: Practical Advice for Living Life and Facing Death. She is the editorial director of the global design firm IDEO and formerly the cofounder and editor-in-chief of ReadyMade magazine. She has written for The New York Times, Wired, Popular Science, SPIN, and Marie Claire.
Miller, MD, is an assistant clinical professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco where he practices and teaches palliative medicine.
Ruth Byock, 81, was driving to her daughter Molly’s house for Thanksgiving dinner when she had a heart attack and died. Struggling to imagine a world without their mother, Molly and her brother Ira went to clear out her condo in Leisure World, the retirement community in Laguna Woods, CA that Ruth had called home for 12 years. (She had renamed the place “Wrinkle Village”).
While sorting through her things, they discovered a small card file on a kitchen counter next to her recipe box. They opened it up, expecting guidance on how to make brisket and kugel. (On the afternoon she died, she had two versions of the baked noodle dish in the back seat of the car.)
What Molly and Ira found instead took them by surprise: Inside, their mother had carefully organized all of her papers, including the account numbers, pending transactions, and a bundle of other documents they’d need to settle her affairs and distribute her belongings. It was as though their mother had baked them one last batch of kugel from beyond and left it waiting there for them to arrive. “This was not a Buddhist master’s awareness of death,” Ira Byock says. “It was a Jewish mother’s love for her children.”
What Ruth had compiled was what we call a “When I Die” file, and it may be the single most important thing you do before you depart. It may sound morbid, but creating a findable file, binder, cloud-based drive, or even shoebox where you store estate documents and meaningful personal effects will save your loved ones incalculable time, money, and suffering. Plus, there’s a lot of imagination you can bring to bear that will give your When I Die file a deeper purpose than a list of account numbers. One woman told us she wants to leave her eulogy for husband in the file, so she can pay homage to him even if she goes first.
Read More: Here