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End of Life Planning

End of life planning is an important part of getting older for both the elderly and their loved ones. Not only does end of life planning ease the burden on those who are left behind, but it also ensures that loved ones will be taken care of. In simple terms, end of life planning is the process of discussing how a person wants to spend the final months of their life and what should happen after they pass away. Not only is this process important because of its practicality and organizational aspects, but it also allows the elderly to say important goodbyes and establish their legacy. For family members that are left behind, it can be extremely difficult to deal with health care, financial, funeral, and other arrangements. End of life planning helps alleviate some of that stress. There are four major aspects of end of life planning: health, finances, funeral, and estate. This article will walk you through each one.  

What is End of Life Planning?

The National Institue of Aging defines the end of life planning as “learning about the types of decisions that might need to be made, considering those decisions ahead of time, and then letting others know about your preferences, often by putting them into an advance directive.” Aging and death are natural and unavoidable parts of life. It’s only logical that we should be prepared for them. 

Finances

Finances are one area of life that is often left as a mess for others to clean up. If finances are not properly taken care of, it can cause serious disputes between surviving loved ones. Any steps you take today to organize your finances will make things easier for family members. Some of these steps can include creating a list of assets and debts (things you own and things you owe) and thinking of the necessary arrangements you can make while you’re living. For example, you may consider paying off your loans or taking care of your mortgage. 

When reviewing your finances, there are five main things you should think about:

  1. What properties do you own? What are their addresses? What about associated mortgages? Make a list of these items. 
  2. Make notes about your bank accounts, banks’ names, addresses, balances, and dates. 
  3. Are there any major investments to consider? Do you own stocks? Any rare or vintage items?
  4. Do you owe any loans? Are there any loans others owe you? If so, both of these kinds of loans will have to be repaid even after you are gone. Document these loans so that your family knows how to deal with both types. It’s also possible that courts will use your other assets to cover your debts. So, try to pay those loans back while you are living, so that your estate and loved ones are protected. 
  5. Do you have life insurance? Do your beneficiaries know about the policy? Have you told them how to file a claim? Will they be able to receive death benefits? Make sure that you have a written record of your policies and the proper parties have all the necessary information.

Once you review your finances and have a comprehensive document or file, make sure to keep it safe and accessible for your beneficiaries. 

Funeral 

When planning for the end of life, most people will also design their funeral and might even cover the costs. Ask yourself: what sort of funeral service would you prefer to have? Do you want your funeral to be conventional? Is there anything you would like to be read or played at your funeral? Who should be in attendance? Do you want to be buried or cremated? Is there a different option (such as a green funeral) that you’d like to go with? You can include all of this information in your will or have it as a separate written document that you give to a trusted party. 

Think about the following:

  1. Who do you want to notify about your passing? In most cases, your immediate family will know of your passing without being notified. However, you may want to make a list and set arrangements of who you want to inform and how. 
  2. Some people also write their own obituary. An obituary is an announcement that informs acquaintances or those in the community of a person’s death. If you wish, you can also write your own obituary or leave instructions for how your loved ones should write it. 
  3. You may also want to choose a funeral venue. For this decision, it’s important to consider factors such as location, type of service, and pricing. 
  4. There are several types of services you can choose from: graveside service, in-home service, memorial, cremation, and others. 
  5. If you’d like to be buried, you can make those arrangements directly with the funeral home. If you decide to be cremated, you can also decide whether or not you’d like the ashes kept in a certain location or scattered. 
  6. Finally, consider the funeral expenses. Funerals are costly for surviving family members. Covering these costs can make them cheaper by removing time constraints. Paying in advance also ensures your wishes are properly followed. 

Health 

As the elderly near death, it can become more difficult for them to make choices about healthcare. This is why it’s vital that you make choices about end of life care well in advance. These choices are often compiled in one document and referred to as any of the following: advance directive, medical directive, personal directive, or living will. Simply put, these are all legal documents that lay out your preferences when it comes to the end of life care. The document should include your decisions about general care, life support, hospitalization, organ donation, resuscitation, and anything else you find appropriate. 

  1. Resuscitation is the treatment protocol used by hospitals when a person’s heart stops beating. This protocol can include mouth-to-mouth, defibrillators, breathing tubes, and other treatments. You should ask yourself whether or not you wish to be resuscitated and include this preference in your advance directive. You should also inform your chosen family members and any medical professionals that will be taking care of you. Your hospital will make sure that a do-not-resuscitate (DNR) order is put on your chart. This way, health care providers will remain informed.
  2. Another aspect of healthcare to consider is organ and tissue donation. If you wish to donate your organs after death, make sure to indicate this in your living will. You can get a donor card to carry with you. Your physician should also be informed about this. In the United States, you do not need to take any action if you do not wish to be a donor. 
  3. As individuals near death, they may need life support. This can include machines, treatments, and medications. Life support is usually temporary but its duration can depend on the patient. If you are suffering from long-term health problems and recovery is unlikely, consider: would you like to be kept alive with the assistance of a ventilator or other life support? Sometimes, family members are the ones who are charged with this decision. You can prevent this by indicating your preferences ahead of time. 
  4. You should also research hospitals and nursing homes ahead of time. Would you like to spend your final years or months in an assisted-living facility or at home? If you go with the first option: Is this nursing home/hospital certified? What are the services they provide? What about pricing, meals, activities, and policies? If, you would like to spend your final days at home: what sort of hospice care would you prefer? How would your family members be involved? Will you be hiring a caregiver? What are the associated costs with this option?
  5. Finally, sort out your health care proxy or health care power of attorney. Both of these are a legal order that allows an individual of your choosing to make healthcare decisions for you. No matter how much advance planning you do, a scenario may arise that will need another party to decide. Choose an individual you trust. 

Estate

We recommend that your end of life planning include an estate plan. This plan will be a directive that concerns your property and surviving family. You may be able to do this by yourself or you may need to hire an attorney or a financial consultant to organize your estate. 

  1. Do you have a business you’d like to be taken over by your children? Is there a specific piece of property you’d like to leave to your favorite niece? Who will be your beneficiaries? It’s important to review your assets and figure out who you’d like to pass them onto, as well as if there will be any ownership issues. You may also choose to have a living trust. It can be more expensive to set up but it will allow you to choose who receives what and how they receive it. 
  2. Just like the medical power of attorney, you can also designate someone to make financial decisions for you when you are no longer able to. We suggest that you choose your financial power of attorney well ahead of time so that no issues arise in the future. 
  3. Who will be your executor and manage your estate? How will your property be distributed? Who will take care of your children (if they are minors)? These questions need to be answered in your last will and testament. Often, this is seen as the most important aspect of end of life planning. 

Final Tips

We hope that this article has allowed you to understand the major components of end-of-life planning. These are some final tips to take away with you:

  1. Consider end of life planning as a plan for the last stages of life, not just the final moments. 
  2. Involve other people (such as doctors, financial advisors, lawyers, family members) in your decision-making. 
  3. Take your time to reflect on the four different areas of end of life planning. Don’t rush with this process. 
  4. Expect there to be difficulties along the way. Making decisions about sensitive topics such as these won’t always be easy. 

We wish you the best of luck with the entire process. 

Sources:

  1. 5 Tips to Help You with End-of-Life Planning, Betterhealthwhileaging.net, betterhealthwhileaging.net
  2. Planning Ahead, Dyingmatters.org, www.dyingmatters.org

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