In the movie, On Golden Pond, Connecticut’s own Katherine Hepburn protested that she was not old, but rather middle age. In response, Henry Fonda’s character said, “We are not in middle age. People do not live to be 150 years old.” Hepburn’s comment points out the fact that many people do not want to discuss death.
I recently had a prospective client cancel an appointment because his wife doesn’t like to talk about death. That reminded me of a quote that says, “Some people act as if dying is optional.”
No one wants to face the fact that our loved ones will not be with us forever. Facing our own mortality is frightening as well. Although none of us wants to contemplate a time when we or a loved one might become disabled or die, it is important to be prepared.
There are many steps families can take in advance of death to avoid future conflicts or uncertainties. Don’t be afraid to start the conversation. Whether you are a parent talking to your children, a husband talking to your wife or an adult child talking to an aging parent, bringing up the topic of death and disability can be difficult, but it is an important conversation to have.
Make sure you or your loved ones have done estate planning. The first document you should have is a durable Power of Attorney. The Power of Attorney is for managing property during your lifetime in case you are unable to do so yourself.
The second document is a Health Care Representative (sometimes called a health care power of attorney), which gives someone else the medical authority to communicate your wishes about medical treatment.
The third document is a Will. The Will is the management and distribution of property after death. Figure out who you want to get your personal property and heirlooms. In addition, you or your loved ones should consult with an estate planning professional about the best way to minimize estate taxes. Preparation and planning in advance can avoid family squabbles after you or your loved ones die.
Make sure you or your loved ones draw up a list to help your executors carry out your estate plans. The list should contain information on the location of assets, such as bank accounts, property, and stocks and bonds; the location, keys, and passwords to any safe deposit boxes; the identity of important professionals who might have information about your estate; and the location of important records, such as loan, insurance, and tax documents. The list can also contain things you want done immediately after you die, such as calling relatives or notifying employers.
Determine yours or your loved ones’ wishes regarding funeral arrangements. You may want to pay for your funeral ahead of time to take the burden off of the family, but you need to be careful and shop around. If you can’t make arrangements ahead of time, put your wishes in writing so the whole family knows what you want.
For some people it is easy to convey their wishes for the end of life to their family. However, this is not always the case, which is why it is so important that you have this discussion with your loved ones and have your estate documents in place.