End-of-Life planning can begin at retirement or upon receiving a terminal diagnosis, but what are you waiting for? It is so much less stressful to review options and start getting affairs in order well in advance of a health crisis or arriving at a mature age. Having an Advanced Directive, reviewing accounts and passwords, healing important relationships, or considering legacy projects are all meaningful ways to begin to relieve anxiety and bring peace of mind to even the most “unprecedented” times, right here, right now.
Estate Planning and other End-of-Life organization is meant to be fluid and reflect personal values which can change significantly over the course of a lifetime. It’s a good idea to look to the following Major Life Events, also known as the Five D’s, as reminders to review your plans:
Divorce (or Marriage): Many people commit “til death do us part” but skip the conversation about (spoiler alert) death’s inevitability in their lives. As Stephen Jenkins says in Die Wisely, “Nowhere is it written that by virtue of giving birth to someone or raising someone to adulthood or marrying someone or loving someone or having forty years together with someone that anyone knows, or can know, how to care for that dying someone.” We have to ask questions and have difficult conversations in order to understand someone’s values and wishes in advance. Similarly, we need to review those decisions when vows and relationships change significantly.
Death (or Birth): There’s nothing like a loss to remind you of how complicated death can be in our modern society. If you’ve handled the paperwork of wrapping up affairs, you can attest to the entanglement of subscriptions and accounts of the deceased which can take years to unravel. Similarly, there’s nothing like a beautiful new life to incentivise having an action plan in place! Like an earthquake or first aid kit, even the simplest preparations can have a major impact when a crisis like significant illness or death occurs.
Distance: Advanced Directive paperwork and options for how to handle your remains vary greatly state by state, so major moves require a thorough review of local legislation. If you have pre-paid funeral arrangements, wish to donate your organs, or have appointed an out-of-state Health Care Proxy, it is wise to consider your new location and tweak plans accordingly. Buying a home, downsizing, or otherwise moving house can also impact your Will, Trust, and plans for inheritance.
Decline: A new diagnosis, disability relative to mental or physical health, or other life altering condition can be a striking reminder to review existing End-of-Life plans. There are many tools available to help prepare an Advanced Directive in relation to a specific disease prognosis (there are Covid-19, Mental Health, or Dementia-specific Directives, for example), that can help take the guesswork out of the equation for your Health Care Proxy. It may also be wise to consult an Elder Law specialist regarding Power of Attorney, Guardianship, maintaining Medicaid eligibility status or establishing a Trust sooner rather than later.
Decade: If you’re cruising along in this lifetime and manage to avoid the previous four D’s, you’ll want to look to each new decade as an excuse to review End-of-Life plans. A lot can change in a year, let alone ten, so show some appreciation for your growing wisdom and incorporate life lessons into your plans at least every decade.
I recently completed my own End-of-Life plans and it was strange to imagine my partner, family and friends fulfilling my wishes for a home funeral, performing my interpretive dance eulogy, and divvying up my personal belongings when I’m gone. The strangeness, however, did not overwhelm the desire to leave clear and empathetic instructions for them, making my departure as painless and non traumatic as possible, should it occur one day, one year, or 100 years from now.
I appreciate having spent time reflecting on my values and have grown to love having End-of-Life planning conversations with others. It’s not all doom and gloom, I promise! The best part is, I no longer have to start from scratch, and each milestone I encounter can allow me to make tweaks and share accordingly. Which brings me to the final D…
Discussion: It’s all great and well if you have End-of-Life plans neatly organized, but if you do not share the plans with anyone, they’re relatively pointless! Be sure any wishes about your medical preferences are shared verbally with your Health Care Proxy and let them and those closest to you know where they can find the documentation to support your End-of-Life decisions. Your (end of) Life depends on it!