When I Pass Over: 10 Preparations for Death

By |2018-08-13T15:45:49+00:00February 23rd, 2015|Categories: Anglican Life|3 Comments

As a priest, I have buried so many who never gave the slightest thought to what their families would do, what decisions would need to be made, how to provide for their loved ones. This kind of planning is a great comfort in this life to me and to my loved ones. But is it morbid to think about and plan for one’s death?

There is an old tale told that Carthusian monks sleep in their coffins. Well, it’s not true, but it is definitely believable! Imagine it, going to sleep every night, prepared to die, ready for sleep, but also ready for that unavoidable fate of death. The truth of it is that Carthusian monks aren’t buried in coffins. That would be much to lavish for their tastes. Instead, they are buried in their habits, strapped to wooden planks, which are lowered into the ground. These monks, known for their extreme austerity, die to self daily, and when one of them should die, it is certainly not without good preparation.

Through the years, I have found the season of Lent to be a good time for some practical preparations on my part to die. I go through our safe, making note of what needs to be filled in, what needs to be taken out, and what needs to be updated. I redo and edit my “Legacy Letter,” a list of practical considerations which need to be taken in my death, probably by my wife. I tinker a bit with funeral plans and maybe get more life insurance.  So, I provide the following list for your consideration, practical preparations for death:

  1. If you have not already, make a will. If you already have one, read it over with your heirs and executors, and if necessary, make changes.
  2. Make sure you have enough life insurance.
  3. Write up a “Legacy Letter.” Include in it bank account numbers, life insurance policy numbers, retirement accounts, locations of important documents, and any debts you may have, including regular bills due.
  4. Make a funeral plan. Include hymns, readings, and location preferences. Share it with your priest. They keep files with this sort of thing.
  5. Make clear your desires for your remains.
  6. Make a list of digital passwords you use regularly. 
  7. If you have children, set up a trust for their education, and make it clear in your will.
  8. Set up a Durable Power of Attorney for the event that you are unable to make medical decisions for yourself. Pick someone trustworthy for this role and make your desires clear. Your priest is usually happy to serve in this way.
  9. Get a safe: fill it with all of the above and include vehicle titles, real estate titles, social security cards, passports, birth certificates, baptism certificates, marriage certificates, military records, family pictures, digital backups, etc. And, if you’re able, make sure there is some cash in it. Let a trusted friend or relative know how to open it. From time to time, remind them.
  10. Make backup keys of every door you unlock, whether of a vehicle or building. Put those in the safe, too.

And then take a deep breath and say a prayer of thanksgiving, knowing that you won’t leave an enormous mess behind you! 

The Rev. Lee Nelson, S.S.C. is a priest, church-planter, and catechist. He is currently planting churches in Waco and College Station, Texas with the aim of making disciples on college campuses through the planting of Anglican churches. For the last several years, he has served on the Catechesis Task Force of the Anglican Church in North America which produced To Be a Christian, an Anglican Catechism. As a part of this work, he is currently developing a catechetical consulting practice, aimed at coaching and training clergy and laypeople for the work of catechesis.


  1. Diana Freeman@att.net February 24, 2015 at 9:51 pm - Reply

    I am an Episcopal priest. My very first pastoral call as a newly minted Curate was to a very young woman whose mother unexpectedly died. The woman knew her mother had made plans, but she search high and low for them even as the funeral date approached. It caused her such anguish! When she found them at the eleventh hour, she could see that the plans were so far out of date so as to be worthless. I personally decided not to make any plans for myself as a result of this incident. (I will not be there anyway to see them carried out, so they can choose what brings them comfort.) but if you do make plans, please update them and be sure they are well marked and accessible! In this case, the woman had moved and not made a copy for the church I was serving.

  2. Carol Roberts February 25, 2015 at 9:26 am - Reply

    The thing is, even when people know they are at the end of their life because of age or illness, apparently in denial, they frequently neglect talking about preparation for eternity. I talk to these folks as I work at a health care facility; I need a “top ten” or even “top two” list to help people be willing to prepare for eternity.

  3. Linkathon! - PhoenixPreacher February 13, 2018 at 11:52 am - Reply

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