Planning for the end of a life is among the most important and also the most difficult tasks we face, whether we are planning for our own or for a loved one. But this preparation for the ultimate loss is crucial.
Without well-laid-out plans, loved ones are left confused and distressed at an extraordinarily difficult time.
“At the time a loved one dies,” says Austin estate-planning lawyer Tracy Willi, “even the most reasonable people lose their minds for about a year and a half.”
“The best thing you can do for your family is to have a plan in place so they’re not arguing about it,” adds Willi, a partner at Willi Law Firm.
Even when planning in advance, the sheer number of decisions can be overwhelming. Let’s break them down into easily digestible parts, so you can make a plan to tackle each one.
And as you’re reading this, keep in mind that there are tools available to you make the process easier. Lantern, for example, is one such service — it’s online, it’s easy to use, and it helps you tick off all the items on your end-of-life checklist.
By the way, if you’re thinking, “I’m young and healthy. I don’t need to worry about this stuff yet,” you could very well be correct. But there’s always a chance the unthinkable happens, and if that’s the case, you want your loved ones to have everything they need to get through a devastating time as effortlessly as possible.
Let’s look at some of the aspects of preparing for end of life.
It’s not something anyone wants to spend money on, but an insurance policy that pays benefits to designated loved ones upon your death is essential for a number of reasons.
These benefits ensure your family can take care of your final expenses, giving you the send-off you deserve, without going into debt.
Life insurance also enables survivors to pay off any of your debts that may be left behind, or cover the mortgage on your house so your family doesn’t lose their home.
A crucial part of planning for the end of one’s life is estate planning, which is arranging for the management and disbursement of a person’s property — including their digital assets and accounts — upon their death.
This generally involves the preparation of a document such as a will or trust that makes the decedent’s directives clear and legally binding. Drawing up these documents is often quite challenging, with a considerable amount of soul searching and angst involved.
“Half of all U.S. adults have still not started the process,” says Cody Barbo, CEO of Trust & Will, an online estate planning service. “Why? Because estate planning is often times expensive, time-consuming and antiquated.”
Any number of qualified lawyers are available to help you create these documents, or you can turn to a service such as Trust & Will, which has “approached estate planning from a design-first perspective, layered on top of incredible customer support to help people throughout the process,” according to Barbo.
Other Document Preparation
In addition to a will, there are other documents you should consider preparing in order to ensure your affairs are settled quickly and efficiently.
Appointment of agent for remains.
Willi recommends clients put in a place an appointment of agent for remains, a document that designates a sole individual as the ultimate arbiter of how the deceased’s remains are to be dealt with.
Even though 50% of Americans choose cremation, “the No. 1 argument I hear about is whether Mom really wanted to be cremated or not,” says Willi, even in the presence of documents that specify disposal instructions.
The appointment of a designated agent ensures that one individual is able to speak authoritatively about Mom’s wishes and make a binding decision.
Advance health care directive.
In tandem with creating a will or trust, many folks design an advance health care directive, which is a legal document that specifies in detail how you wish to be treated medically in various health-related circumstances, if you are unable to speak for yourself.
A person would specify in a directive, for example, whether or not he or she wants CPR, ventilator use, tube feeding, IV fluids, etc., in particular circumstances. One can also specify the types of medications he or she wants to receive under various scenarios.
A person clearly approaching the end of life might specify what type of comfort care they want.
How much pain relief is provided, for example, is an important question because one might wish to consider, in order to balance the relief that pain medication can offer against the “foggy” feeling many such medicines impart. Additionally, as death approaches, some people choose to be surrounded by loved ones, while others might prefer to be alone.
An advance directive often includes information regarding whether or not a person wants to donate his or her organs, and if so, which organs, and for what use.
Health care proxy.
A healthcare power of attorney or health care proxy enables you to assign legal decision-making power to another individual in the event you are unable to make decisions for yourself. This proxy might be a part of your advance health care directive or could be a separate document.
Durable power of attorney.
You’ll want to appoint someone who can ensure that financial matters are attended to in the event you are incapacitated. Some banks have specific forms they require you to complete and keep updated.
Diminishing capacity letter.
This is a document that gives someone — usually your financial advisor — permission to call specific individuals, such as the person to whom you have designated power of attorney, if they have noticed diminishment in your cognitive, mental or psychological capabilities.
As we get closer to the end of our lives, and as the inevitable toll a life well lived begins to show itself in our bodies, we need to plan where we will spend our final days.
We want to spend them comfortably, happily and as healthfully as possible, of course. The options are numerous and each should be considered carefully.
Assisted living facilities generally provide a largely independent lifestyle, designed for residents who do not need 24-hour medical care. Residents of these facilities typically live in small, apartment-type units, sometimes with kitchens.
Assisted living centers also have staff members who can help with daily living activities such as showering, taking medication and eating.
These facilities usually have a common dining area, and some centers have game rooms, libraries, computer rooms and recreational facilities.
You or your loved one may decide it’s most desireable to remain (or go back) home as the end of life approaches. Some may prefer the comfort of the familiar to the clinical atmosphere of other options.
Nursing home, or skilled nursing.
Depending on the fragility of a loved one’s health and the life-saving measures set forth in the advanced directive, a nursing home may make the most sense. Because these facilities provide near-constant medical assistance, this is the best option for someone who requires a high degree of care.
Hospice care is offered to patients who are not expected to recover from their illness and who are within six months of the end of life.
Hospice care is about easing pain and helping families prepare for their loved one’s death. This type of care can take place at home, in specialized centers, in nursing homes, or in hospitals.
Mariachis? Bagpipes? An ash-scattering party in Cabo San Lucas?
Different strokes for different folks, and while you might think you have a fairly good idea as to your family member’s wishes for their funeral, it’s best to sit down for a conversation and get it all on paper.
- Does Dad want to be buried or cremated, for example?
- Does Mom want an open casket?
Some folks may want a formal gathering at a funeral home or church, while others may want something more casual, at a beloved state park, for example.
While these can be difficult topics to discuss, you’ll be glad you did when you’re able to effortlessly plan and execute a service that you know would have pleased your loved one.
The same goes for your own wishes. Have a conversation with your children or other loved ones about how you’d like your memorial services to be carried out. And do them a favor — bring the topic up yourself so they don’t have to feel awkward having to broach the subject.
Obituary and Death Notice
If a loved one’s death is imminent, you might want to consider getting started on writing his or her obituary, because a well-thought out tribute can take some time.
Actually, what you’ll be writing to submit to your local paper is most likely a “death notice.” In newspaper parlance, obituaries are written by the newspaper staff and are generally reserved for prominent people. Death notices, on the other hand, are submitted by members of the public, and generally come with a price tag.
At any rate, this is something you’ll want to be prepared for, as it is a useful way to (usually) sing the praises of the deceased. It’s also an opportunity to let readers know about the service date, time and location, and where contributions may be made in the decedent’s honor.
Speaking of the latter, if you or your loved one don’t want mourners spending money on flowers, be sure to identify a charitable organization to which contributions should be made instead.
How would you or your loved one wish to be memorialized? While there are numerous options for long-term commemoration options, one of the most striking is a memorial diamond crafted by Eterneva from your loved one’s ashes.
Eterneva’s sensitive and exacting process creates a breathtaking jewel that stunningly and permanently celebrates your family member, and can be added to any setting — a ring, necklace or watch band, for example.
And if this is your wish, you can contract now to have this service performed upon your passing, and relieve your family of the burden of having to make decisions after you are gone.
Other ways to memorialize a life well lived include a bench complete with plaque mentioning the deceased, a memorial tree planted in your loved one’s honor, a handsome, long-lasting box filled with momentos or perhaps a scholarship at a favorite university.
A few companies can turn funeral flowers into beads, which can be crafted into jewelry as desired. Other jewelry containing hair or ashes can be crafted, as well.
Share the Wishes and Plans
When you’ve completed your checklist, either for yourself or a loved one, be sure to share the plans you’ve made. The most carefully laid out plans do no one any good if they’re sitting in a file cabinet in your basement or hidden among the 500 other files on your computer’s desktop.
Send digital files, make printouts … whatever you’re comfortable with, and make sure children, siblings, and other loved ones have copies so when the unthinkable happens, they’ll be comforted by knowing they can execute your wishes to the letter.
Also, be sure loved ones know the location of social security cards and other important documents, as well as where you’ve stashed the keys to safety deposit boxes, for example.
No one wants to think about the end of life. But a little preparation now will make an extraordinarily difficult time considerably less awful.