Posts Tagged ‘obituary’

Here’s a Project For You: Write Your Own Obituary

APRIL 14, 2014 VOLUME 21 NUMBER 14

I have a new aspiration. I want my obituary to appear (at the appropriate time, of course — not before) in someone’s blog, newsletter, book or other publication as “one of the best obituaries ever” — maybe even to “go viral.” I’m just not sure I can count on my family to understand the importance of this goal. Maybe I need to write my own obituary now.

Turns out that idea is not novel. The recent death of Walter George Bruhl, Jr., in Florida highlighted the trend. Read Mr. Bruhl’s obituary, and the story about its preparation, and you will have to acknowledge that you wish you’d met him.

Of course excellent obituaries can be written by family members. Consider the moving and excellent obituary of Harry Weathersby Stamps, who died in March, 2013, in Mississippi. And note that it appears online on a site called “” — the internet is truly a wonderful invention (one wonders whether Al Gore might be working on his own obituary). But back to Mr. Stamps: his wonderful obituary was written by his daughter, Amanda Lewis, a Texas attorney with a wonderful sense of humor and fond recollections about her father’s strengths and eccentricities. There are definitely benefits for family members who write memorable obituaries, but still there is something to be said for preparing your own.

So how to get started with writing one’s own obituary? It turns out that there are plenty of prompts, suggestions and ideas available. One online resource for the self-written obituary project suggests the question: “what do I want people to remember about me?” as a straightforward prompt. The result need not be humorous or whimsical — it might be heartfelt and moving (like actor James Rebhorn’s self-written obituary). It might be wry and revealing (like engineer Val Patterson’s contribution to the genre). Maybe you prefer mostly factual, with the occasional sly aside (like former Marine and ad man John E. Holden — whose short obituary generated enough interest to occasion a longer, much more detailed reminiscence from his local newspaper).

Something similar happened with Jane Catherine Lotter’s self-written obituary. After her death in Seattle in 2013, her obituary “went viral” and resulted in a New York Times article about her life, her death and her writing.

Here’s an interesting idea: try starting with a very simple statement, limited to just six words. That’s the premise behind “Not Quite What I Was Planning,” a 2008 collection of “six-word memoirs” from various contributors. There are even follow-ups: “It All Changed in an Instant” and other volumes in the series.

Most people, though, will want to write a longer version. Advice from one source: just get started. According to Obituary Guide (a resource for writing your own or a loved one’s obituary), getting your own on paper can be a help for family members and a chance to say what you want said about yourself. It also can be part of your end-of-life planning, including your living will, health care power of attorney, durable financial power of attorney, will and other documents.

It turns out that the self-written obituary is a trend. You can even order a book to help you get started (called, cleverly, ObitKit) and join “the hottest thing in dying.” Happy writing.

What To Do When a Family Member or Loved One Dies


Obviously, the death of a family member or close friend will be an emotionally charged moment. Most of us only have to endure the process a handful of times in our entire lives. That means we may be ill-prepared for what needs to be addressed, and extremely distracted and even vulnerable at the very time we need to be at our best.

There are a few legal matters that need to be dealt with, and a myriad of practical issues. Family and friends must be notified, an obituary notice prepared, and funeral arrangements made (or simply implemented, if the decedent was organized enough to have made advance arrangements). Here are a few others to be dealt with right away:

  • Pets need to be taken care of. Will someone in the family take responsibility for the cat? She needs to be attended to right away — she should not be left in the house alone, frightened and without adequate food and water.
  • Is security at the decedent’s home a concern? Someone should be detailed to turn lights on and off, pick up (and cancel) newspapers and collect the mail every day. Locks may need to be changed, especially if there have been caretakers, neighbors and repair workers in and out of the home.
  • The refrigerator needs to be cleaned out, dishes done and put away, and the house generally looked after. If those tasks are left for later, all sorts of problems can arise.
  • Mail should be forwarded, but it may not be possible to accomplish that until someone has been formally appointed as Personal Representative of the decedent’s estate. In the meantime, someone can pick up the mail daily while checking on the house.
  • Start a log and/or spreadsheet to show all expenditures and time spent on the decedent’s affairs. Even if you do not intend to seek payment later, it may be important to have this information collected — and it is much harder to recreate it later.
  • Arrange for a visit to the safe deposit box. In Arizona the bank is no longer required to impound the box’s contents, but it may be that no one is a signer on the box — or that the key can not be located. Look for information about the safe deposit box, and the key, among the decedent’s papers and personal possessions.
  • Cut up and return credit cards in the decedent’s name. It is not legal to use them, so there’s no need to keep them around. Do not be tempted to charge funeral expenses or other urgent bills on the credit cards.

What’s missing from this list? Call the lawyer. We don’t want to intimate that we think calling for legal counsel is unimportant (hey, we’re a law office, after all). In most cases, though, it is not among the first things that need to be done. It is probably not necessary to meet with the attorney immediately, but it may well take several days to get an appointment and in the meantime you might be able to get at least some guidance by telephone — so an early call is good, but perhaps not the most important item on your list.

Your circumstances may be different, of course. Perhaps there is a relative who is trying to remove valuable personal property without proper authority. Maybe your loved one lived in a rental unit, and security, cleaning and pets are not a concern. One item, at the head of every list, should be universal: breathe. That is, take a deep breath, ask for assistance from family and friends (most will be happy to pitch in, even if they were not related to, or close to, the decedent), and remember that it is permissible — and even laudable — to grieve as you work through the tasks that must be accomplished.

This is a short list of the most urgent steps to take. In another newsletter we’ll suggest some others, and even provide a checklist.

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