I’m Dead. Now What?

Version 3

My mother left me some exquisite Chinese dresses. They are called qi pao. Below a high collar, the dress sinuously hugs the body. I have one in silk, one in wool with embroidered trim and a lacy one. They fit me, which is amazing, as they were tailored to my mom’s measurements. I wear them with love. But bittersweet feelings sometimes come over me. I wonder, “What will become of them when I die?”


I’m Dead. Now What? is a book by the Peter Pauper Press that deals with such issues. Its sections are meant to organize information about you for those you leave behind. (The exact same book comes with a kinder, gentler title: Peace of Mind Planner.) Among the chapters are: My Dependents; Important Documents; Financial; Beneficiaries; Email/Social Media; Personal Property; What to Pay, Close and Cancel; My Wishes.


Since 2018, I have kept a list of deaths of friends and family in the “Notes” section of my iPhone.  The spouses and children of those names on my iPhone have spent days, months and years sorting out estate issues. “Why didn’t he put my name down as beneficiary?” moaned a wife whose husband had inherited stock shares when his mother died.  “We have to wait for probate to get into the safety deposit box and to get title to the car,” said another. “I had to hire a lawyer and an accountant,” said someone else.

You can save your loved ones time, money and headaches. All you need to do is to fill out the information that’s asked by I’m Dead. Now What? Convenience and expenses, however, aren’t the only reasons.

It is no coincidence that Cain killing Abel is the second story in the Bible, right after the creation of Adam and Eve. Never underestimate the power of sibling rivalry. Fighting over the estate feels like the last chance to settle old childhood scores. My personal, unscientific data point to Chinese families having the most bitter feuds.

Cain and Abel in Ghent Altarpiece

Also, if the process of settlement is opaque and prolonged, mistrust of the executor can rise up, justified or not. And some people are just greedy. No parent wants their children to be fighting, especially after they are gone. Wise parents can avert a lot of hard feelings if they leave instructions so specific that sticky situations do not come up.

Bill and I have a rather complicated arrangement. (Who doesn’t?) All of our children are from previous marriages. He has four. I have one. We have been very specific with designating our beneficiaries. We established trusts so that, upon our deaths, our possessions flow into the trusts and need not be probated. We have provisions for the last one of us to die.

This doesn’t mean we have everything in hand. Not at all. The first line in IMPORTANT DOCUMENTS is: My will is located ________________.  Well, my will is located on the bottom shelf of the TV room coffee table. I need a better filing system.


Another section is: EMAIL AND SOCIAL MEDIA – USER NAMES AND PASSWORDS. Bill and I know our own passwords but not each other’s. We are working on having a joint Password Manager, but we’re nowhere near done. What a huge and tedious task!

The hardest part will be what to do with possessions that the book calls: HEIRLOOMS AND PERSONAL EFFECTS. I inherited some Chinese paintings from Dad and some jewelry from my Mom. I treasure them as much because of the connection to my parents as the beauty of the objects. And my gorgeous dresses! To saddle our children with them, though, seems a burden.

Then there are the photos, some now over a hundred years old, of grandparents, of great aunts in nuns’ habits and of great uncles and even some great-greats in long, Chinese gowns of silk. Some have already slipped my ability to identify. I feel like I am my family’s last link to China, as tenuous as it is.IMG_9141

And there is the matter of my journals. I have a shelf’s worth, starting in the 1970s. I wish I were someone famous and I could bequeath them to a library or a university, even if nothing momentous happened in my life.

Let’s return to more useful advice. You should fill in the answers with a pencil and review and revise every year. Let your spouse and kids know where you store I’m Dead. Now What? Finally, I think it’s best that each person has their own copy.

The last category in the book is: MY WISHES. I want Bill to put in this section of his book his oft-expressed wish to have his ashes thrown into the lake at the fifth hole of Persimmon Woods Golf Club. As for me, I would like folks to remember me by clinking glasses and singing “Auld Lang Syne.”

The lake on the 5th hole

Tell me: Do you feel the need to tie up loose ends, or do you figure it won’t be your problem any more?

By Cathy Luh

I am a doctor, a writer and Grammy to Edin and Caleb. I live in St. Louis with husband Bill.

5 replies on “I’m Dead. Now What?”

This past year, I renewed my friendship with an elderly, long-lost cousin who lived across the country. It turned out that he was quite ill and that I was his only living relative. He said he didn’t need a will, because “I don’t have anything to leave to anybody.” When I arranged for him to go to the hospital, he didn’t think to list me as his next-of-kin. What a complicated mess it’s been! If he’d known how much work was going to fall to me, he would have been horrified. Lesson: Use this workbook! Not for yourself, but for your family.


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