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Get Your Paperwork in Order ~ for Death

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It’s been a long time since I have posted – the longest I have ever gone without writing a blog post. Getting starting again is a little daunting, honestly. So much as happened in the weeks since I last posted.


At the end of January, I took my 4 kids on a trip to New York. We drove 16 hours to visit Niagara Falls in the dead of winter {a brutally cold, but breathtakingly beautiful undertaking}, and then spent a little over a week with some good friends. While I was there, my mother called me and asked if I would consider heading to Missouri after our trip. She and my father had planned a trip to Panama and my elderly and ailing grandparents who live on their property needed looking after while they were gone.

Of course I agreed immediately, and less than a week after I returned home to Iowa from New York, my kids and I hit the road again for my parents’ house. We got here last Thursday and my parents left for Panama Friday morning. On Friday afternoon, less than 12 hours after my parents left, my grandmother suffered a massive heart attack and was life flighted out of our backyard.

I was massively unprepared for this. I was in Missouri, alone, with my four children. My grandfather recently had a pace-maker installed and has been having a lot of chest pains. My grandmother was in a helicopter headed for a hospital an hour away and I didn’t know what to do. I had no list of medications, no insurance information, no doctor information, no copies of important paperwork. I didn’t even know her middle initial. I didn’t know what to do with my kids.

Luckily, my sister’s in-laws live near by and they came over to stay with my children and my grandfather as I made my way to the hospital. My sister is a geriatric doctor in Seattle, and while no direct help to me here, she was a huge help in talking with the doctors, telling me what to do and which questions to ask. She is quite familiar with my grandparents’ health history and reminded me about my grandmother’s Do Not Resuscitate status. At 92, my grandma feels she has lived a good life and doesn’t want extraordinary and aggressive measures to sustain her life. My aunt and uncle and one of my cousins also headed to the hospital and have been really helpful these last few days. And my parents cut their trip to Panama short and arrived back home last night.

My grandmother has surprised everyone with her ability to recover. Her doctor said her main artery was almost 100% blocked and that the heart attack damaged her valves. She coded the first night but amazingly recovered on her own. Today, she was walking on her own and will be moved out of the ICU very soon, and they hope she can be released altogether by the end of the week – an absolutely amazing recovery given that the doctor wasn’t sure if she would make it through the night.

I’m sharing this with you as a gentle reminder to get your paperwork in order. If you have elderly parents or grandparents, I really encourage you to discuss their end of life care. The doctors never asked me if my grandmother had a DNR or what her wishes may have been and only found out because I finally told them. Think about what your own wishes would be and work on living wills and Advance Directives. It’s just too late to think about these things during an actual emergency. Plans need to be in place well before that because it is nearly impossible to stop medical care once it’s in motion. I know. I was there Friday afternoon.

My husband and I thought about all of these things 7 years ago when he left the Air Force, but it’s probably time we review those documents and make sure everything is still in good standing. It would also be helpful to make sure our family members know where to look for important documents, and we need to have a discussion with our family members to make sure we understand their last wishes so that everyone is on the same page in the event the unthinkable happens.

If you do not have a will, a living will, life insurance, and thoughts about what you would like for end-of-life care, I highly encourage you to think about it. This website, Get Your Shit Together.com seems to be a good place to start! This article on planning a good death is also very good, and here is a list of the 25 documents you need before you die. Think about it now, before it’s too late!

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About Michelle Marine

Michelle Marine is the author of How to Raise Chickens for Meat, a long time green living enthusiast and rural Iowa mom of four. An avid traveler, Michelle has lived on three different continents and has driven all four kids across the entire USA (by herself!). She loves sharing farm-to-table recipes, their family travel adventures, and gardening and homesteading tips on her popular lifestyle blog, SimplifyLiveLove.com.


  1. blankchantal says

    Thank you for posting about this. It’s so important! And one of our local moms just lost her husband in a car accident a few days ago, left with a 7yo, 2yo and 1yo. It’s heartbreaking and we don’t like to think about it but we need to!

    We have an “emergency file” 3-ring binder with many of those 25 essential documents but still need to arrange for guardianship. Although verbally taken care of, with potential guardians in England, we need to get that legally written down. I try to update the folder every January with copies of recent statements etc.

    Thanks for the nudge, I’ll look at what else we need to do! Happy to hear your grandmother is such a strong woman!

  2. blankDFW says

    Yes, I agree, good information to know. Thanks for the websites. My In-laws called a ‘family meeting’ about a year ago & gave us all the information needed, right down to what they want to be buried in & where it is in their house! Now, I just have to find the folder they gave us. I put it away, thinking that I would know where I put it & now can’t for the life of me, remember where it is. Maybe it’s at the other house?

  3. blankVelmaD says

    Thank you for this timely message and the website links. My 85-year-old father went from reasonably healthy and completely independent one day, to acute kidney failure and Alzheimer’s the next. Fortunately he has good moments in which to provide instructions about the decisions and paperwork involved in a major lifestyle change. We treasure the moments where his former self shines through and each day is a gift.

  4. blankAutism United says

    Great post – you have inspired me to get my stuff organized. Thanks for the two links – very helpful.
    Good news about your Grandmother – what a wonderful thing to be 92 years young.
    Thanks again.

  5. blankanexactinglife says

    I smirked when I saw the title of your post, but I am glad you shared your story. About 15 years ago, I faced the surreal situation of my recent ex-husband dying. My child and I were his beneficiaries. It took 2 years to get the estate straightened out. I would urge everyone to get their papers in order!

  6. blankmjskit says

    I bet this was a hard post to write. I’m sure you are exhausting both mentally and physically. What a time you’ve had recently. I’m so glad that everything work out and am amazing that your grandmother came back on her own efforts at 92! She obviously is not ready to go. Yes, the paperwork is very important!! We learned this lesson about 5 years ago when I,@ 54, was rushed to the ER where I was diagnosed as sepsis and when I got to the point where I couldn’t breathe, I was put on a respirator and put in a drug-induced coma. I was in the hospital for 2 weeks and my husband was a wreck by the time I got home. I did have a living will but there were so many other things that were undone that it wasn’t easy for Bobby to take care of me and the household and his work. So yes, get it together now, not later. Great post Michelle and welcome home!

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