Preparing for the event of death: How to relieve the burden on your relatives

No one likes thinking about death. And no one likes preparing for death either. But to ease the burden on survivors, it makes sense to keep certain documents accessible and to make some arrangements.

Quick Summary

  • You can make it easier for your loved ones to handle administrative matters by preparing your documents for death.
  • Without any preparation, it is up to your loved ones to make decisions regarding, for example, burial.
  • A list of your accounts, subscriptions, etc. will help your relatives to manage and cancel them if necessary.
  • An organized filing system is also useful for digital documents.
  • Tax return documents should be kept in an orderly manner and filed with previous years’ tax returns.

Why should I prepare for my death?

Relatives are obliged to report the death to the authorities within two days. After the death has been reported to the authorities, the next step is to plan the funeral. To register the death and prepare the funeral, the authorities require various documents (e.g. identity card, medical death certificate and, if available, the family record book).

In addition, the bereaved have to make various decisions. This includes, for example, whether the funeral service should be public, what type of burial is desired, and whether there should be a collection. Each of these questions poses a challenge to the bereaved. Therefore, it is helpful if you put your wishes in writing or inform your relatives directly. Many cantons offer templates with which you can record your wishes in the event of death(example of the canton of Zurich). And you can find our funeral planning checklist here.

The bereaved have many other tasks to deal with. In addition to notifying banks and insurance companies, they also need to cancel the apartment rent and various terminate subscriptions and contracts. It can be difficult for survivors to track what contracts are in place. A listing of accounts, subscriptions, memberships, etc. will help family members to get an overview.

Where should I file my documents?

There is no general answer to the question of where important documents should be stored. It is important that you store sensitive information in a way that it does not fall into the wrong hands. At the same time, however, documents should be accessible and findable for your relatives. Therefore, it is best to inform your close relatives where you keep important documents. It is best to directly introduce your relatives to your filing system. For example, it is helpful to know whether you sort documents alphabetically, chronologically, or by category.

Digital documents

More and more contracts, invoices and communications are sent digitally these days. As a result, they are often digitally scattered (in different folders, in the email inbox, etc.). This can make it difficult for survivors to find relevant information. One way to ease the burden on the bereaved is to make a list of various accounts and the important information that goes with them (such as insurance policy, customer number, bank account number, username, etc.). You can then store these in a discoverable location or physically file them away.

But how can survivors can access digitally stored information or the logins of your online accounts? On the one hand, the access data must be stored in such a way that they are protected from access by third parties. On the other hand, it can be difficult for survivors to obtain this information.

One option is to print out important documents or store them on a hard drive/USB stick or centrally on the computer. Secondly, a secure solution should be found to pass on the access data to the surviving family members. This can be done through a trusted person. There are a few service providers who organize the orderly transfer of access data and documents to survivors. However, it is important to check the trustworthiness of these service providers!

Tax documents

When someone passes away, the heirs are required to file an in-year tax return. This means that they must file a tax return from January 1 to the date of death. You might know from your own tax returns that filling it out is much easier if you file the documents you receive on an ongoing basis in an orderly manner. It is also helpful if you keep the tax returns from previous years in the same place. This way, relatives have some clues as to which items to consider.

Will and Patient Decree

Finally, the testamentary disposition of the deceased must also be located. This is unproblematic in the case of wills or inheritance contracts that have been deposited with the cantonal office. It is different if you keep your will at home. Relatives must then first search for the will, sometimes being uncertain whether one exists at all. Clear instructions while alive or a description in the documents of where the will is located will make it easier for survivors to find it.

It is best to keep a patient decree in several places. This way, you can file the patient decree with other important documents at home and leave a copy with your primary care physician. You can hand out another copy to your close relatives.

What is the best approach?

It can be challenging to create a comprehensive list of all relevant information or to set up a new, organized filing system. One approach could be that every time you remember a new account or membership, you add that information to the list and file it in an orderly fashion. Our templates and checklists will help you keep track of the relevant documents and files to consider.

Don’t hesitate to talk about this with your loved ones. Share your wishes with them and show them where you keep important documents. This way, you can relieve your loved ones during a difficult time.

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