Just In Case: helping people prepare for death or illness
Harold Empey was sent home from the hospital and told to begin to make funeral arrangements -- twice.
“I guess neither the Lord nor the devil wanted me yet,” Empey said.
Once his health scare had passed, Empey’s wife Betty wondered what she would have done had he died. What Empey did was create a binder. It contained everything from his will to his banking information to a contact list of friends and relatives -- anything needed to be organized and help ease the burden after a loved one dies. Now Empey travels extensively doing presentations for his Just In Case binders, divided into sections with tips on what important documents need to be collected and stored.
“It’s all about peace of mind,” Empey said.
When he started his binder after his first cardiac arrest in 2004, they also began a binder for his wife Betty. Before she died from cancer in 2012, Betty looked at the memorial card for her funeral and read her own obituary before it was published.
“After she died, a friend came to me and asked to see (Betty’s binder) and said, ‘how did you do that so fast?’ I told him that it had already been done. He asked to see it and I told him it was personal information, but I said I would see what I could do for him. So, I went home and developed Just In Case,” Empey said.
His own son died shortly after his wife passed. Seeing the difference between how prepared he had been compared to his daughter-in-law helped motivate him to help others prepare for serious illness or death. Empey notes that everyone is different and family dynamics are different. There’s no right way to go about preparing, but what he set out to do was have people know what questions to ask, what decisions needed to be made and what information needs to be collected. “They’re reluctant to start,” Empey said. “I say to them don’t try to do it all at once. And don’t do it in order. Just pick an area, make some notes, talk to your spouse or whoever, and then go on to another section. You never, ever finish. It’s an ongoing process and you continually add to it.”
Empey has distributed more than 13,000 binders and has been from Ontario to British Columbia and everywhere-in- between to make presentations.
“I ship binders all over North America,” he said. Empey isn’t making a dime from the sales of his binders. After his costs, he donates any profits to charity. To date he has donated $200,000, with much of that going to the Salvation Army.
One of the suggestions he made at his presentation was bequeathing some money -- if a person was able -- to a child or relative that were in their will while they were still alive. He recounted how they gave some inheritance money to one of their children for a specific project and were able to see the results, while he and his wife were both still alive.
Empey said there is a wealth of information online, but to make sure that the information one receives is Saskatchewan-specific information. He added, funeral homes can also answer a lot of questions. Empey said that everyone over 18 should have a will, also that “enduring power of attorney is the most important document you will ever sign -- and the most dangerous.” Empey’s final two tips in the binder are to de-clutter and to learn what your partner takes care of in terms of running the household.
When it comes to de-cluttering, Empey’s belief in charity came to the foreground again. He gave away some of his furniture and some china to family that had recently immigrated to Canada.
“Your adult kids don’t want that stuff anyway,” he said. He also suggested that as you collect information in your binder, you also take time to tell your life story, as well as some of the stories of your parents and grandparents so there is a family history to leave behind for children and grandchildren.
The Just In Case binder grew out of necessity but Empey couldn’t have imagine how it would grow once he began the project. However, he saw a need and is always pleased to hear how it has helped people.
“It’s so rewarding for me to have somebody phone,” Empey said. “About a year ago, my neighbour lady came over and she had been at a funeral in Calgary. This lady asked her if she, by chance, knew Harold Empey. She said she had the Just In Case book and she didn’t know what she would have done without it. That’s pretty rewarding.”
Anyone interested in a binder or more information, contact Harold at: firstname.lastname@example.org.