Putting Your House in Order

There are a number of practical matters that must be dealt with despite the emotional pain and distraction of caring for a loved one who is seriously ill. It is during this time that families are required by law, custom and personal wishes to make many decisions. The person dealing with a life-threatening illness will often feel better knowing that his or her affairs are being put in order. The details can be handled by a family member, relative, friend or professional.

During Illness

Inventory of Assets

It is important to draw up a list of assets and where they are kept. Insurance policies, stocks and bonds, bank accounts and safety deposit boxes should be completely inventoried with locations clearly delineated.


Make necessary changes. Examples: specific financial provision for personal guardianship of children. This is the time to make changes in the choice of executor (often spouse of relative). A letter apart from the will can cover non-mandatory instructions to the executor, for example, naming children’s schools.

Bank Accounts

Provide funds to carry the family immediately after the death be setting up (or increasing) a savings account in the surviving spouse’s name. Bank funds in the individual’s name will be frozen upon death. Funds in a joint account are not usually frozen.

Insurance and Benefits

Make sure that life insurance beneficiary clauses are up to date. Contact the employee benefits department of the individual’s company to ensure that desired beneficiaries are named.

Powers of Attorney

Ensure that a Continuing Power of Attorney for Property and a Power of Attorney for Personal Care are completed by the individual to family member, relative friend or professional

who can ensure all transactions are executed. It is particularly crucial when an individual becomes incapacitated. You may wish to consider including in the Power of Attorney for Personal Care a direction regarding treatment or discontinuation of treatment if the one has specific wishes in this regard.

Funeral Arrangements

Consider making advance arrangements for the funeral.

A funeral director will handle purchase of a cemetery plot and bill you later along with other charges (assuming death is imminent). If you deal directly with a cemetery company, it will want full payment for one grave and will finance the balance if you wish.

After Death


Arrange to see the family lawyer and executor or co-executor together, perferably in the lawyer’s office, within two or three days after the funeral. Speed is important in case the lawyer has to probate the will.


Copies of birth certificate, marriage certificate and death certificate will be required in order to receive benefits from insurance, CPP and other sources. As well, there may be benefits available through Veterans Affairs. The funeral director can provide appropriate claim forms.


Phone life insurance companies to request claim corms. Notify insurer carrying the deceased’s homeowner’s health and auto insurance policies, the employee benefits department and banks used by the deceased (thus freezing accounts). Notify credit card companies, and destroy or surrender the cards.

Grieving and Adjustment

While family members often feel confused, exhausted and numb around the time of a loved one’s death, practical business affairs can keep them occupied for the first few weeks. Pre-planning as much as possible can enlighten the load immediately following death.

Adjusting to the loss of a loved one is never easy, and it is not done quickly. The emotional bonds that developed over time. Emotional healing and adaptation to a life without this person will also take time.

Grieving is a process that is done differently by each family member and depends on a variety of factors.

Bereavement material, support and referrals are available through the hospice.