Death is a drag -- though not necessarily for the deceased. It's not you who suffers the aftershocks, but your loved ones.

If you've been through the confusion, pain, and even resentment of having a family member pass away without leaving directions for settling their estate, you know how important it is to prepare for your demise. (Forgive the melodrama, but "prepare for your demise" sounds a lot cooler than "get your important papers in order," don't you think?)

There are the obvious items (although "obvious" becomes less so to those grieving), such as locating life insurance policies and notifying appropriate agencies, such as Social Security and Medicare. And then there are the less-obvious tasks, such as evaluating security needs at the deceased's residence and ordering a sufficient number of death certificates to provide appropriate entities.

What? That's not how you spent your weekend? That's OK. Estate planner and author Martin Kuritz compiled the CLIFFSNOTES(r) version of this chore in a free supplement (pdf download) to The Beneficiary Book -- a family information organizer. "First Things...," provides a checklist of 44 "to do" items to settle an estate.

This brief homework assignment is the perfect entree for those who have yet to sit down with their older relatives and have "the talk" -- the dreaded conversation about their final financial wishes. Doing it now is better than the alternative of digging through the yellowed stacks of 40-year-old files while mourning a loss. Heck, start the conversation by talking about investments in "deathcare" stocks like AlderwoodsGroup (NASDAQ:AWGI), Service Corp. (NYSE:SCI), and Stewart Enterprises (NASDAQ:STEI). Or hand them a free copy of the latest issue of Rule Your Retirement, then gingerly steer the conversation toward leaving the grandkids a sweet legacy.

Go ahead and prepare for your demise. Your family will thank you.

Here are a few uncomfortable questions that we're happy to field:

This article was originally published May 31, 2005. It has been updated.

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Dayana Yochim does not own any companies mentioned in this article. The Fool's disclosure policy just keeps on kickin'.

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