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Family

A 'death box' may sound morbid, but it's actually a priceless gift for your loved ones

Anyone who's had to manage someone's affairs while grieving knows the value of a Nokbox.

death, dying, estate planning, paperwork

If we don't prepare for our own passing, we leave our loved ones with a painful scavenger hunt.

"Do you have a death box?" my friend asked me out of the blue one day.

I'm sorry? A death box? Like … a casket?

"No, a box of paperwork for when you die," she said. "You need one, trust me. It's the best thing ever. I've given one to all of my immediate family members."

"It's not actually called a 'death box,'" she added as she pulled up a website on her phone. "It's called a Nokbox. Have you ever heard of it?"

I had not. And how the heck did we start talking about me dying?

As she began to explain and show me what the Nokbox was, I understood why she was so adamant about me needing one. She was right. I did need one. We all need one.


Anyone who has ever managed someone's affairs or experienced an unexpected passing of a loved one knows that grief isn't the only thing you have to process when someone dies. We live in an era of legalities and paperwork and official channels and bureaucracy, and that doesn't end when our life on Earth does. In fact, it's a big part of what we leave behind, as annoying as it is.

For instance, do your loved ones have access to your banking information? Credit card accounts? Social media profiles? Most of us would say no, as there's not much of a need for that when we're here. But what if we suddenly weren't? How would our loved ones know how to wrap things up for us?

A Nokbox—short for "next of kin box"—is an organizational system that helps those left behind avoid having to hunt through your files and electronics to close out accounts, notify lenders and other logistical tasks once you have passed away. You could create your own, of course, but the Nokbox does all the basic setup for you. (And no, this isn't an ad. I just greatly appreciate having things organized for me.)

As my Nokbox enthusiast friend explains, "After having some friends lose loved ones, I witnessed the grief coupled with immense stress that came along with trying to deal with the many tangible details left behind—what bills were there to pay and to whom, where were keys, where was a will if there was one, what were the passwords, etc."

Gifting a Nokbox to family members means they all have the same organizational system and know what to look for in the event one of them passes away. "It's the best gift you can give from the other side to your grieving family," she adds.

The Nokbox was created by Maria Fraietta, a teacher and real estate agent from Colorado, after her father passed away in 2021. Even though her father left a will, Fraietta soon realized how much of a scavenger hunt it was to find everything needed to handle his affairs. Figuring out passwords for his bank accounts, credit cards and investments meant hours of guesswork for the family. And what they experienced is painfully common.

Fraietta tells Upworthy she has sold 11,000 boxes working out of her backyard shed and shipping right from her front porch. She says when she started she held test groups in her kitchen to put together the first boxes and figure out every section that would be needed. As people gave her ideas, she added them to the list.

"A few things I forgot at first—storage units, donations to charity, and military service," she says. "I later added a Medicaid folder. It seemed weird to add a medical section at first, because the person has died. But family medical history is important. Medicaid is for you while you're living to manage what is a pretty cumbersome item. I really wanted the box to cover everything, and it does, with the exception of a separate business if people have that. (I am working on a "Biz Box.") The idea is that you can get rid of all of the other papers and files in your home so people—or you—never have to go through them later.

"It's a paper product for that reason as well," she adds. "We all still have paper in our lives, and it has to go somewhere. When you manage an estate, you'll get even more paper. Having one folder or piece of paper to mark everything you have that is digital is a huge help for your NOK [next-of-kin]. So, the product isn't antidigital, but it just keeps track of what we have in the cloud, on our laptops, etc."

The Nokbox comes in a few different choices, from the Nokbox Lite, which includes all of the instructions and labels you need but without any boxes or folders, to the Nokbox Fireproof, which includes everything you need in a fireproof file box.

Fraietta says there are dozens of things in the Nokbox that people don't think about, including in a when-I-die set of documents.

"When people see the box, they thumb through and say, 'Oh yeah, I forgot about that!'" she says. "It's different for everyone. One of my favorites is the list of key friends … let your NOK know of one 'representative' from each of your friend groups … college, book club, neighborhood friends, so they know who to notify, and that person can share with the others in that group. Along those same lines, a quick map of your neighbors is great—often the NOK doesn't know who they should notify and who has a spare key. Regarding having a will—there's a place in the box to indicate that you don't have one, so your NOK doesn't spend years looking for it. I have dozens of examples and stories of things people don't think of. When people look around their homes, they realize there are so many things that only they know how to manage."

No one wants to think about their own death, but everyone would benefit from preparing for the inevitable and enabling loved ones to grieve their passing with as few practical frustrations as possible. Imagine giving someone a gift that will save their loved ones hours of time and frustration in the midst of their time of grief. A "death box" might not seem like a very merry gift, but it truly is a priceless one. For the person who is hard to shop for or who seems to have everything, a Nokbox could be the perfect present, even if it raises an eyebrow or two.

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