Need help making plans for my possible death
May 22, 2015 12:45 PM   Subscribe

I am making plans for my loved ones in case I die. I know the coroner will take my body away, but I'm afraid there will be an awful mess left behind. How do other people handle this? I don't want my loved ones to have to clean it up.

I am seriously ill, housebound and I live alone. Although I may live a long time yet, I am at some risk for dying in the near future. The most probable mode of death is heart failure. I might not be found for as long as a week.

I was considering leaving instructions for a service to come and clean up any bodily fluids and so forth and have the money come out of my estate. I want to be as specific as possible so my loved ones don't have to make any decisions in a time of crisis. What sort of service would be appropriate? I know there are crime scene clean-up services but I expect to die in an ordinary, non-gruesome manner.

I can talk about this completely calmly, but I have discovered that people close to me definitely can't. I'm making a document with detailed plans in it as to what to do if I die and making it available to key people, so I can just leave the instructions in that.

I live in Emeryville, California. All advice is appreciated, but the more specific you can be the better.
posted by Cinnamon Bear to Grab Bag (16 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
The crime scene cleaners you mentioned are the exact such folks to come and clean up after a death even if there was no crime involved. The coroner's office will also sometimes have names of services for loved ones. Also, check with the funeral home operator you plan to use for the funeral or cremation. They will know a local service.
posted by AugustWest at 12:54 PM on May 22, 2015

You could certainly contact biohazard cleanup (that appears to be the most popular terms, along with crime scene cleanup, and they don't require a crime scene, it's the same work) companies in your area and discuss prearrangment, but I think the better course of action would be to subscribe to a monitoring service who will send someone for a welfare check if you don't perform regular (daily, preferably) checkins.

That way the whole discovery process is left to professionals and also it isn't left so long that there is a cleanup required. (I know a couple of people who have survived someone in that situation and it's clearly traumatic to live with. There's just certain aspects of that process that require input from the next of kin or executor, but even if there weren't they would still *know* and be able to use their imaginations. Avoiding it entirely is vastly preferable.)

Lifeline is probably the best-known monitoring system. Consumer Reports has a 2015 report on systems that you might want to check out.
posted by Lyn Never at 12:56 PM on May 22, 2015 [19 favorites]

Yes, there are such services. Call a funeral company and ask. And maybe make whatever arrangements you'd like to. There are versions of online dead man's switches that you could use to notify police that they should check on you. Also maybe somebody like the Visiting Nurse Association or other home care provider. In matters related to death, Cold Chef is the MeFite to talk to. He's funny, knowledgeable and compassionate.

Have you considered assisted living, where someone will check on your status daily, and where you might feel like part of a community?
posted by theora55 at 12:57 PM on May 22, 2015 [3 favorites]

A funeral home takes care of some of these things, like retrieving the body, but they can also help to facilitate or introduce you to a local service that can do clean-up. If you are able to get home hospice care, they can also help to coordinate such services. I also agree with Lyn Never about utilizing a service that can check up on you so that you would be found sooner rather than later, which might reduce or eliminate the need for a cleanup.

This might be too much detail for some, but when my father died there was no cleanup required other than removing the bed linens. That said, the funeral director was there to retrieve him within two hours of his death.
posted by bedhead at 1:00 PM on May 22, 2015

Do you have neighbors? Do you have set times for phone calls with family members?

I deal with a LOT of people who are at risk for dying home alone, or at least collapsing to the floor and not being able to get up for one reason or another. The best ways to ensure you are found sooner rather than later if you are in this situation:
- Get the newspaper daily, and tell your neighbor to call the police to check on you if they see two newspapers.
- Have a scheduled time for phone calls with your family to say hello several times per week. If you miss one of the scheduled calls, have them send the police to check on you.

Other things that seem relevant:
- Have you looked into home hospice? If your life expectancy is less than 6 months you likely qualify for these services and they could help with your quality of life a LOT. Strongly encourage you to look into this.
- If you're trying to get your affairs in order, yes, it's important to know what will happen to your dead body, but what's even more important than that is seeing a lawyer and having advanced directives for health and power of attorney drawn up, and having a will. I assume you've done this already, but if not, there's no better way to ensure you die with dignity and don't have heroic measures done to you when doing so is futile, and also it helps out your family hugely in terms of dealing with your estate and not having the probate process go on for years and years.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 1:05 PM on May 22, 2015 [35 favorites]

Also, get Life Alert or similar.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 1:06 PM on May 22, 2015 [2 favorites]

And to be clear, the reason I say all these things is that the way you want to die is quickly and painlessly, but falling on the floor and lying there for days because you are too weak or injured to get up is neither of those things, and things like hospice and advanced directives are the best way to ensure that if you can't die fast, you can at least die in the most comfortable way possible.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 1:07 PM on May 22, 2015 [23 favorites]

I don't know where you live but perhaps this is also a possibility? My mother lives alone. She has the local police call her, every day, for a welfare check. This is basically what they do. They call every day at a specific time and if you do not answer they have a short list of people who they call just to check in. They don't come to your house or otherwise do anything special unless they can not reach you and/or your contact people. So as a result, there is not a situation where you'd be home and unfound for a long period of time.

That said, I had another parent who died unattended and at home and I think the police/funeral home handled that part and it was all taken care of by the time we got there and (to the best of my knowledge) we did not pay extra for this over and above their charge for removing the body. I know it's tough to talk to people about but in short there are processes for a lot of this stuff so it's also a thing you should be able to no-nonsense plan for. Best of luck.
posted by jessamyn at 1:19 PM on May 22, 2015 [6 favorites]

I'd strongly encourage you to seek out some referrals to local agencies that work with the housebound and chronically ill. You can call 211 or try to speak to a social worker at your hospital. There are programs ranging from meal delivery to in-home medical care to hospice, depending on your needs and desires, that can help out. The added bonus is that these folks can come by or call you on a regular basis. If you're unconscious, they can call for medical help and/or your family, ensuring that you aren't left alone for too long.

You could also look into Center for Elders' Independence (CEI), a PACE (Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly) program that serves Emeryville. Elderly here means 55+; I don't know your age. I'm not familiar with CEI and what they offer, but PACE programs are designed to provide an array of services to people with serious illnesses who need higher levels of care while remaining at home. You could talk to them about what they offer and whether you might qualify.
posted by zachlipton at 1:44 PM on May 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

I might check with Hospice by the Bay. They're good folks and they're local. The page I linked is concerned with slightly different issues from those you describe, but I think they are likely to either have already dealt with questions like yours or know what steps to take to find the answers.

If other suggestions here don't work for you for any reason, you could discuss with your doctor a referral to hospice. A hospice referral generally requires that the doctor attest that your life expectancy is 6 months or less, but what people don't usually know is that if you life past the 6 month mark, you merely need to get a new attestation from your doctor that you have a 6 month life expectancy from the time the new attestation is given. I think a lot of people avoid hospice in part because their worry is that they'll hit 6 months, still be alive, and then have run through their eligibility. Not so.
posted by janey47 at 1:52 PM on May 22, 2015 [4 favorites]

Speaking as an ICU nurse who has worked intimately with many dying individuals: please, PLEASE create an advanced directive/living will if you have not already. Please have copies available and distribute them to your closest relatives.
posted by pecanpies at 6:37 PM on May 22, 2015 [2 favorites]

This is kinda gruesome, but you really do need to make sure somehow that your body is found quickly. A friend of a friend had a relative die in their home and was not found for a week or two. No possessions made of cloth were salvageable due to the smell. Furniture, curtains, rugs, etc, all had to be trashed.
posted by raisingsand at 7:59 PM on May 22, 2015

When you say 'housebound', are you in a stand alone house, or an apartment building?

If in the latter, befriend the building manager, and have them check on you.
posted by spinifex23 at 8:36 PM on May 22, 2015

Response by poster: Thank you for all replies. This is all very helpful and I will have to think about the best solutions.
posted by Cinnamon Bear at 2:37 PM on May 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

Also, if you wish you have relatives have access to any of your medical files after your death, you may have to specify this with your GP/Doctor in your area.
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 10:02 AM on May 24, 2015

Response by poster: Thanks for everyone's help. I decided to go with Pacific Internment as my funeral home (they cremated Jessica Mitford), and I left detailed instructions for my loved ones to call the funeral home and have them advise about clean up. I am also getting all the other legal stuff and plans done (care directive and so on).

I'm going to set up a dead man's switch also, just in case. I do get check-ins/phone calls from friends, but I took to heart the warnings about making sure I'm found promptly.

I got good health news recently so this is all less urgent - I probably won't die in the near future. But better to be prepared.
posted by Cinnamon Bear at 3:37 PM on June 11, 2015 [4 favorites]

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