Getting Your Affairs in Order (or Minimizing the Anxiety of Your Loved Ones)


Cary Sweeney
December 2021

Recently I read an article in the Greater Good Center Magazine titled “How to Make Your Death Kinder to Those You Love.” In this article the author, Cianna P. Stewart, recounts the aftermath of her father’s death, as she and her stepmother, attempting to settle his affairs, hit many roadblocks: disorganized files, a computer they couldn’t open for lack of a password, a safe-deposit key with no indication of which bank or branch it might come from. 

The author expresses anger and frustration with the troubles her father left for his survivors. I understand her feelings. And while they don’t make for an easy read, they drive their point home. I have heard many similar stories in my role at the Retirement Center and my work in the field of gerontology over the past 20 years. Some people do detailed estate planning before they die; others do not. We receive many calls from widows and other family members, left to settle an estate, who are overwhelmed and confused. The Greater Good article is unusually effective on this topic; I recommend signing up for their e-magazine if you haven’t already.

Overcoming Inertia
When preparing your affairs in anticipation of your own death, inertia is understandable. This is not just about organizing documents and understanding legalese, after all. It can involve feelings of fear, grief, loss, and reflection on one’s life. But taking the steps to prepare your documents and document your wishes can help ease your mind and minimize anxiety and stress for loved ones.

One Step To Take
It goes without saying that creating a will, trust, advance directives, and sharing your wishes with a loved one, are essential steps to getting your affairs in order. (Watch a recent presentation, “Estate and Advance Planning,” here). Equally important, and sometimes overlooked, is listing contact information for all your providers and accounts -- in one place where your loved ones can find it.

AARP provides a simple template, titled “Valuable Documents At Your Fingertips,” for listing your providers, account numbers, and other vital information. UC Berkeley offers to bMail account holders the service LastPass, which safely organizes all your passwords in one place on a secure website, requiring only one password to access your accounts. This service is available to non bMail account holders for a minimal monthly cost.

Also, creating a list of all of your important contacts can be an important part of your legacy, especially helping to minimize stress and anxiety after your passing. 


Valuable Documents At Your Fingertips Worksheet from AARP
Worksheet for listing out your providers, account numbers, etc. in one place. 

Getting Your Affairs in Order Fact Sheet from National Institute on Aging
Get organized before a medical emergency! Brief 2 page brochure that provides a list to help get your legal and financial papers in order, and includes information about advance directives, wills, and trusts. 

Estate and Advance Planning Presentation (Recording from Nov 2020) 
A review of the Advanced Health Care Directive, Power of Attorney, Trust, Revocable Living Trusts, Last Testament and Will, Estate Taxes and Estate Administration will be covered. Additionally information provided about the UCRP survivor benefit. Presenters: Kristen Southworth, JD, Ryan McMahan, MD, MAS, Don Goldberg, UC Retirement Administration Service Center; Presenter material can be found here: 

After the Death of a Loved One:  A resource created by UC Davis Retiree Center for UC retirees and their spouses/partners; includes a checklist of items for survivors of retirees.

Managing your online accounts and passwords

Managing mail for the deceased
After loved ones pass, you can stop mail from being sent to their registered addresses. Learn how to file a proper request at the Post Office™ to redirect their mail or remove them from advertising lists.

The author thanks Cathy Cockrell for reviewing and editing this article. 

Publication date: 
December 2, 2021
Publication type: 
Journal Article