Friday, July 28, 2017

The Time to Plan is Now: Things You Can Do to Plan for the Death of a (Military) Spouse

I had absolutely no idea how much work death involved until my husband was killed in a military training accident three years ago.

Up until that time, I thought I was prepared. We had wills and powers of attorney, we had life insurance, and all of his military paperwork was up-to-date.

We'd even sat down and had that dreaded "what if" he doesn't come home conversation (at his insistence), so I knew what he wanted my life to look like after he died.

But there were so many things I didn't know. So many things we didn't discuss that we should have.

Hindsight, of course, is always twenty-twenty.

Nobody wants to think about someone they love dying. It is sad and scary and overwhelming. And so we avoid discussing death.

We don't do ourselves any favours by avoiding that conversation.

Because the harsh reality is: death does happen. It is an inevitable part of life.

Sometimes it swoops in suddenly and unexpectedly; other times it is a long-drawn out affair.

Cancer, heart attack, suicide, training accidents, war.

None of us are immune to death. None of us.

Death doesn't care if we are twenty-three or forty-three or eighty-three.

And it doesn't wait for us to be prepared.

There are several things we can do now, while we have the chance, to help us prepare for that day.

First, and foremost, make sure your legal affairs are up-to-date. Verify that any current wills and powers of attorney are valid in the province you currently reside in (laws vary from province to province). If they are not, arrange to do this with a lawyer as soon as possible.

Legal Documents
  • Will 
  • Executor/Executrix. Many spouses/partners decide to be each others' executors. If you decide to appoint someone else to this role, discuss this with them first. Being an executor is an enormous responsibility (and a huge time commitment), some may not be up to the task. Ideally, appoint someone who resides in the same province as you do. Also, be sure to appoint someone you will have a good working relationship with.  
  • Power of Attorney
  • Personal Care Directive (medical)
  • Guardianship of minor children
  • Custody Agreements
  • Organ Donation

Military Documents
  • Primary Next of Kin (current addresses and contact info)
  • Dependents
  • Memorial Cross and Memorial Ribbon recipients
  • Most recent will/ power of attorney
  • SSIP (make sure the correct beneficiary is named)

Once you have all of your legal affairs in order, prepare an Estate Binder. Include all of the following information:

Copy All Essential Documents
  • Birth Certificate
  • Driver's License
  • Passport
  • Social Insurance Card
  • Health Card
  • Health Insurance Coverage
  • Marriage Certificate/Death Certificate
  • Credit Cards
  • Property Ownership Records
  • Mortgage Records
  • Military Records
  • Power of Attorney, Personal Directive (medical).

List of Where to Find Original Documents

  • Safe-deposit box and (with a list of the contents and who has access to it)
  • Combination or key to safe, filing cabinet
  • Will, Power of Attorney, Personal directive (medical)
  • Any personal letters of instructions
  • Birth certificate, marriage/divorce certificates, education and military records
  • Insurance policies (health, life, automobile, home)
  • Tax returns
  • Personal loans
  • Mortgage paperwork
  • Titles to any properties
  • Automobile Registration

List of Important Contacts
  • Name, address, phone number, and email for Primary Next of Kin
  • Name, address, phone number and email for Executor/Executrix of your estate
  • Name, address, phone number, and email for attorney, financial planner, accountant
  • A list of beneficiaries with address, phone number, and emails 
  • Family Physician- name, address, phone number (especially important for those caring for the surviving spouse so they can arrange medical assistance, if needed, such as sleeping pills or anxiety medication)

List of Important Accounts
  • Bank accounts (make sure all accounts are joint with your spouse). Include account numbers, address and phone number of the financial institution, also include online login and passwords.
  • Insurance information, including health, life, automobile, homeowner/rental. Include account number name, address, and telephone number for each agency.
  • Mortgage Account. Include account number, name, address and telephone number of the lender.
  • Credit Cards (including stores such as Home Depot, The Bay). Include account number, name, address and telephone number of the lender. Also include any online banking information, username, password.
  • Investments. Include account number, name, address, and telephone number of institution/investor.
  • In Trust Accounts. Include account number, name, address, and telephone number of financial institution.
  • Any already existing Veterans Affairs Canada accounts and case manager name and number.

Dependent Children 
Make sure each child has his/her own:
  • Bank Account 
  • SIN (necessary for both VAC and CPP benefits)
  • Also know the location of important documents: Birth Certificate/Baptismal Certificate, Passport, Adoption Paperwork
  • School name, address, and grade
  • Childcare Provider- name, address, phone number
  • Emergency Contact- name, address, phone number
  • Family Doctor, pediatrician, counsellor - name, address and phone number

List of All Online Accounts
Include user names and passwords.
  • Email
  • Banking
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter
  • Instagram
  • PayPal
  • Pinterest
  • News Websites
  • Online Subscriptions
  • Other 

Notification List 
This is especially important in the case of a military death as family and close friends may be located all over the country (world) and may be difficult to contact. The military will wait until you give them permission to release your loved one's name, but it is nearly impossible to contact every person in this time period. Once the name is released, news of the death will spread rapidly, usually via social media.
  • Prioritize your notification list
  • Notify the most important people (children, parents, in-laws, siblings) on that list personally 
  • Delegate family members to notify other family members (you will not want to make all of those calls yourself)
  • Delegate friends to notify friends


Sit down with your spouse or partner (this should also be done with your parents so you know what their wishes are) and have that all important conversation.

This is a difficult conversation to have, but it will help ease the stress on the surviving spouse when one of you dies. It's much better to make these decisions together than to have one of you bear the burden of making them all alone.

Burial/Funeral Plans
  • Location of burial (National Military Cemetery or other)
  • Open (if possible) or closed casket
  • Cremation or burial
  • Type of casket 
  • Type of urn
  • Visitation or no visitation
  • Religious or non-religious service
  • Military Service
  • Pallbearers
  • Honorary Pallbearers
  • Speakers/Eulogy
  • Hymns/Music
  • Readings
  • Poetry
  • Reception
  • Headstone- military or other

Organ Donation
This is an all too often overlooked topic, but it is extremely important to know your spouse's wishes in this regard.

Financial Plan
  • Assets
  • Debt
  • Insurance 
  • Monthly Expenses
  • Estimated monthly income (difficult to know precisely; amount is very much dependent on if it is a service related death)
  • Emergency Fund (will you have enough to live on for the first few months until all benefits are in place. Also important to note, military pay will be frozen and not automatically deposited into your pay account on payday)
  • Will surviving spouse need to return to work (if not already working)

Where Will You Live
This is especially relevant to military and RCMP families who are most often living away from home, and family and friends, at the time of death. Most couples haven't yet planned for where they will retire, and in many cases, where you had planned to retire may not ultimately be where you want to live after your spouse dies (trust me on that one). Moving alone after your spouse dies is very, very different than being posted or retiring with your spouse. Also important to note, there is a time limit on when you can make your final move and have it paid for (usually up to two years after the death of the member).

Life After Loss
And last, but certainly not least, discuss life after loss. It really is the most important conversation you will ever have with your spouse.

No one needs permission to move forward with their life but is so reassuring to know your husband or wife would want you to move forward with your life, be happy and eventually find love again. It is also reassuring to know they would have approved of all of the decisions you make. Discussing these things with your spouse before they die helps you move forward without guilt after they die. When others question or criticize your decisions, you can stand tall and take comfort in knowing you have honoured your spouse's wishes.

We can never be truly prepared for the loss of a loved one. But we can save ourselves so much extra grief if we just take the time to plan for that day. 

The time to plan is now.

Don't put off until tomorrow what you should do today because tomorrow could be too late.

"You can always change your plan, but only if you have one."~ Randy Pausch



  1. This is an excellent list - I think you've covered everything! It's so important to be able to find documents ... it's worth taking the time to get your files in order!

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  4. No one can be prepared for death of a loved one. Unfortunately, bad things happen. This guide below may help organize financial matters after the funeral:

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  7. If you are pre-planning, some funeral homes (can) provide an Executor's Manual, which provides this information in an organised format, with pockets to hold various documents: birth certificates, copies of driver's licence, etc., etc., etc.
    CRA has an information page that it is good to review before need, for the same reason as Monica's list:
    Canada Revenue Agency - What to Do Following a Death

  8. Since nearly everyone we know these days is on the Internet, you can reach create an eMail Notification List that is simply a text file of all the eMail addresses of those persons whom you and your partner would like to be notified in case of a death - or life-threatening injury - of either of you. This can be copied and pasted into an eMail message and sent immediately after you have called those immediate family members and BFFs who must be contacted by phone - who are on the Phone Notification Lists. Review the lists from time-to-time to ensure that they are up-to-date.

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