Get Your Shit Together: improve your life by planning for your death

Jeff sez, "My friend Chanel Reynolds's husband Jose Hernando was killed while cycling in 2009. She's created the Get Your Shit Together website to help you prepare for the worst now so that your family doesn't have the experience that she faced. Get Your Shit Together is a straightforward web guide to the documents, questions and details you should prepare in advance to ease the trauma on your family if the worst happens."

I really like this. I've lived through a couple sudden, unexpected deaths of friends in the past year, and it's got me thinking about how I can arrange my own affairs to ensure that things go smoothly as possible if I get hit by a bus or similar. The more I think about it, the more I realize that the things you do when you plan for your death and incapacity are really just about getting your shit together -- putting your life, your data, your commitments, and your finances in resilient and well-organized shape. If your life is pulled-together enough such that your family could run it if you disappeared, it will also be pulled-together enough that it contains as few unpleasant surprises for you lurking in its depths and snares.

Doing your will is a hassle, collecting passwords is a pain in the ass. I know, I get it. But so is going to the dentist, changing the oil in your car, and getting an annual mammogram. And, we manage to do that stuff anyway.

So, Get Your Shit Together was born. Out of scribbles in notebooks, hours and hours making phone calls and tracking stuff down. There was an unbelievable amount of help from friends. Not to mention numerous messy late nights, some very dark thoughts, and more than a handful of moments too unbearable to repeat. I (mostly) have my shit together. Now it’s your turn. I want to help.

Get Your Shit Together | Life and Death Planning: Low effort, high reward. (Thanks, Jeff!)


  1. I have pancreatic cancer, so I’m facing the end of life sooner than most of you.  Fortunately, my wife has more sense than I ever did, so, with her leadership, we’ve updated our wills, made some changes to the beneficiary status on our investments, changed the deeds on our real estate to make sure that there are no hangups with transfer of ownership, recorded and passed on all the passwords to my online accounts, and so on.  I think we’re ready, and it is a comfort to know I don’t need to worry about it anymore.  Just focus on the fight that I can’t avoid against the cancer. 

  2. I have an “Open This When I Am Dead” file on the desktop of my work and home computers. Everyone knows about it. It gives instruction as to where to find my Lastpass Userid and Password, Wills, Power of Attorneys,etc. They are on paper in a physical location in my condo. I also added other personal information like bank info, recurring payments, where to find tax receipts etc. It went on for pages and surprised me just how much there was to write down once I started. The first line says: Don’t forget I have cats.

  3. I discovered this the hard way last year when my dad got sick and was in the hospital sedated for weeks. So this is about making things manageable for your loved ones should you, for whatever reason, be unable to manage your affairs for an extended period (or forever).

  4. my wife and i have recently started this discussion. She has a paralyzing fear of mortality, and i have a tendency to think of such morose matters with alarming regularity, but now that we have a kid, we know that it’s more important than ever to get those ducks in a row as early as possible.

    1. Like, yesterday.

      Any adult who has a dependent and earns a paycheck needs life insurance, because that pays out much quicker than the estate.  Bills will need to be paid, many of them, in the first month or so after someone’s death.  There needs to be money that is not tied up in a will or, heaven forfend, probate.

      Guardianship, plus at least one back-up, must be part of the will.  It’s not enough to say “everyone knows who baby’s godparents are”.  The court doesn’t know that.  You don’t want the court deciding who gets to take the kid home….and sending your kid to the foster system until the permanent living situation is determined.  No, the court will not automatically agree that your best friend is the right choice if your best friend argues that after your death.  You need to put it in writing in a legal document.

      Most of the causes of death for young(ish) parents are sudden and unexpected.  There often isn’t time to get the lawyer to the ER.  And what if you’re in a coma at that point?

      It might be easier for your wife to discuss this with a lawyer instead of you.  Maybe you go get a cup of coffee or something, and give her time to talk to a knowledgeable professional who is not family or friend to her.

      1. My mother had most everything in trust for me. No probate and I had access to almost everything as soon as I had a death certificate in hand, which was only a couple of days.

        1. Yes, that’s another way to do it, but most parents don’t have the kind of financial situation in which they would create a trust for their children.

          Also, it sounds like you were an adult at the time, probably earning your own money.

          The big problem for parents of dependent children is covering all possible tragic events: for example, what if both parents are in a coma, or died in the same accident?  Or if there’s only one breadwinner and that’s the one who’s in a coma or dead?  For most people, an insurance policy is the vehicle to get money ASAP to pay the mortgage, utilities, and grocery bill.

          1. There was no trust. When you open a bank account, they ask you if you want to list a beneficiary. If you don’t do it then, you can just call your bank or go in and add it later. Adding a beneficiary to the home deed is also DIY.

            Anything that’s left to you in trust, you already own, so it doesn’t count toward probate. If the house and the accounts were in trust, you probably won’t make the probate threshold unless there’s some reason for the courts to take note of the chattel property.

  5. I used to work for a guy who spent weeks, if not months going through stuff when his mom died.  I mean, he was still finding money hidden in books.  that kind of thing.  Bank statements for accounts all over with nominal amounts, etc..  And she had rental property.
    It was like another job.  She never got “her affairs in order” as they say and it was not an easy clean up.  

  6. Saying it is a matter of “getting your shit together”, like changing the oil in your car, ignores the biggest reason most of us are reluctant; in this case, the tedious task requires us to acknowledge that we are going to die.  Possibly very soon.  Ain’t nobody got time for that!

  7. Good idea.  Unfortunately crude name — I don’t think such important plans and information are “shit”. 

  8.  A friend with breast cancer only faced up to the reality of her death in the week before she died, and it forced her husband to have the conversation about funerals and wishes in that final week.  People make flippant comments when asked when they are not in extremis “Oh, bury me in the garden/feed me to the fishes/give my body to medical science” as though that sort of jokey attitude relieves their loved ones of the responsibility.  It doesn’t.  It is easier for loved ones to have decisions about what sort of funeral you want, who you want there, what music to have, than to expect them to make those decisions in the few days after your death.  Write it down, put it with your will.  Write down any wishes on anything, separate from your will, knowing they have no legal standing, but will help your family deal with things with the comfort of knowing they are doing what you want.  As for the financial stuff, yes, deal with it.  In the UK we have a programme “Heir Hunters” which states every time that hundreds of thousands die without making a will every year.

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