The Exit Strategy – Final Preparations and Planning

By Lorretta Guazzini —

Since going into the funeral business almost 20 years ago, I realize most people are unprepared for dying. And I don’t mean death itself, I mean all of the little details that need to be in place before you take that trip we all take one day. Here are some reminders that will make it easier on those who are left to do those final favors for you and take care of your affairs.

When a death occurs at home, local law enforcement will be called, and they will call the funeral home of your choice. If you die in a hospital and have left instructions, you will have your choice of funeral homes. If instead of calling law enforcement, someone calls 911 and the ambulance comes, it is their job to attempt resuscitate the person.

Once the death certificate is generated, a doctor has to sign it and then registrar signs and files it. Once that is done, the funeral home can move forward with burial or cremation. The funeral director generates the obituary from the information gathered from the family. I always tell families not to set any dates or times until they meet with me. We discuss how many death certificates are needed, social security benefits, veterans’ services, obituaries, schedules all have to be coordinated, and the funeral director will take care of that for the family.

Sometimes it takes several days to get a death certificates signed. It is usually a week to 10 days before the certified death certificate is received. Remember, any power of attorney ceases when a person dies. When cremation is the choice, the funeral director has to have the next of kin sign for the cremation, not the person who has power of attorney. If there are only children as next of kin, they have to all sign or at lease the majority. Authorizations can be emailed or faxed, but they have to be notarized. Thank goodness for email and faxing, it makes these authorizations so much easier.

Another thing to be prepared with are important numbers. Do you know your kids’ or siblings’ email or fax number? Speaking of numbers, we all seem to have computers or even cell phones that take a passcode – does anybody have your passcode? Do you have it written somewhere a family member can find it? A lot of families are completely in the dark about this.

In addition to passcodes for the phone make sure someone has the computer passcodes.  It is also important that there is an additional signer on bank accounts and safe deposit boxes.  If this isn’t done, accounts are locked down for 45 days and there is nothing anyone can do about it without a death certificate.  Autopsies also take more time for a death certificate and often can take up to two months.

In this circumstance, families can suffer severely when money is in a holding pattern. Sometimes mortgage payments, car payments, utilities are months behind when you have to wait for the death certificate just because you didn’t take the time to go with your spouse or your mother or father to become a signer on those accounts.

Organ donors – be aware of the Catch 22.  It seems as though in the past several years, everybody talks about a DNR (do not resuscitate) but there are important considerations if you’ve chosen to donate that will be affected by the DNR. In this instance, you would still be able to donate, it just wouldn’t be the vital organs, mainly skin, corneas, large bones, tendons. The wonderful thing about being a vital organ donor is how many people one person’s donation can benefit.

It always amazes me how many people don’t know what their family member prefers when it comes to these last-minute decisions. It’s not really a conversation we want to have about the end of our lives, but it is important to make sure your loved ones know what you would prefer.  Don’t leave your family wondering if they’re making the right decision.

Having some of these affairs in order will make things much easier for those you leave behind and will relieve a great deal of their stress. These may seem like small details, but believe me, these ideas will be a huge help to someone who is trying to figure it out your wishes instead of leaving no map for them to follow.

There has always been a certain mystic about death and dying. If you have any questions or comments, don’t hesitate to email me at



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