When I Pass Over: 10 Preparations for Death


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! 

Published on

February 23, 2015


Lee Nelson

The Rev. Lee Nelson, S.S.C., is a priest, church planter, and catechist. He has planted churches in Waco and College Station, Texas.

View more from Lee Nelson


Please comment with both clarity and charity!

Subscribe to Comments
Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments