Leave a how-to manual

March 23, 2009

You have lots of important business information stored in your head and in files all over the place. It would help to have this organized so when you die, your family knows what to do.

Before you read this column, grab a pen, paper, or your laptop. We have some serious work to do.

Many readers are aware that our family said farewell to Mom Froese in January 2009. It was a hope-filled journey for us to hear her blessing in the hospital while she could still talk. The family gathered all her important documents over the four months she was palliative. We had time to ask her questions, and fulfill her wishes.

My sister, age 23 and my mother, age 65, both died very suddenly without any time to say goodbye, or to double-check their wishes for their affairs and their funerals.

When you die, does your family know what to do?

My speaker friend Jolene Brown (at has a very powerful article entitled “What do you want done with your body when you are dead?”  Grainews printed this article on page 50 of the October 20, 2008 issue, but you can print it off again from her website. (I have her permission to do this) It will help you get organized.

Jolene spent a 14-hour road trip with her hubby, listing all the important details that her family would need to know upon their deaths.

You don’t want to deal with this do you? Our children have asked us to get a binder in place for them, so that they know who to call, and what suppliers and advisors we use to run our life and our farm. This makes an excellent spring project while you are waiting for the snow to melt and can find the path to the burn barrel.

Funeral plans can be laid out. Call your local funeral director for planning tools. Wes’s mom belonged to a funeral cooperative, which worked really well for her.

Make copies of important documents, including driver licenses, SIN cards, birth certificates, etc. Throw away the irrelevant stuff, and feel lighter as you de-clutter.

Buy a labeler to make files and tabs you can read in large print. Beauty in organization creates energy, and you’re going to need energy!

Think of a great reward for yourself once you finish the project. For me, a massage sounds like a great treat for hard work bent over a messy filing cabinet.

Many of us in the sandwich generation have power of attorney for our parents, and/or siblings. I have a binder started for my dad, and I also have had a long chat with my single sister, whose estate I will be responsible to execute.

If you love to surf the Internet, I’m sure that there are executor checklists, and “Save our stuff” checklists that you can alter to fit your needs. The main thing is to act, and get the documents in order. The next thing is tell several family members and especially your executor where the important papers are. You might be smart to copy the binder, and give it to your executor. Financial planners and lawyers have checklist tools that you can seek out from your trusted advisors. The important thing is to collect the details or your life in a centralized location.

“Conversations are not a contract,” as Jolene Brown says. In the days I have spent in front of farm audiences, I continue to be amazed at the number of people who don’t have wills, or decent written operating agreements with their farm business partners. Your wishes for your funeral and burial need to be written down. Start a funeral plans file. Set a date to complete the binder of documents and details.


When I die, I want my family to know what to do. I don’t want to have a phone call from readers telling me in a few months that this column was a really great idea, and then discover that nothing was done about it.

“Talk does not cook rice,” says a Chinese proverb. If 2009 is the year of the Ox, quit being a stubborn ox, keeping details of your life and death wishes secret. Grab the bull by the horns and get to work. The journey of thousand miles begins with one step…start the project!

Let me know when your binder is finished, and that you’ve had your family meeting.

Ask me if my binder is finished. I need accountability partners, too.

When you die, I hope you have time to say farewell to your family. As our son Ian has said, “It’s not goodbye, it’s see you later.”  I hope your family embraces the hope of heaven. I will be delighted to know you have given them the gift of clear direction, so that when you die, they know what to do.

Remember, it’s your farm, your family, your choice.
Elaine Froese is a catalyst for farm families to make sound choices for new chapters in their lives. Her specialty is creating a safe space for families to talk about tough issues in farm succession. She farms near Boissevain, Manitoba with her husband Wes. Order her award winning book “Planting the Seed of Hope” and visit

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Shannon Gilchrist, “Get Farm Transition Unstuck” online course participant
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