One of the most tedious and difficult tasks is planning ahead for something you know is going to occur that you do not want to happen. When talking about impending death, which will be happening to us all eventually, it is really tough to think about all the little details that can make life hard for those left behind.
Typically, we think of the obvious planning, like funeral arrangements, the will, and saying goodbye. There are other matters to consider for the survivors and those that will be unweaving your life to the extent necessary to close up shop, so to speak. First however, let’s take a look at immediate wishes you may have, like not wanting to be maintained on life support, or someone to help make medical decisions if you lose your ability while you are still alive. From there, we move onto other issues of forward planning.
Let’s begin with the planning for just prior to death. Of course, you may have a sudden and unanticipated death. You may also have an illness or condition that is terminal. If you are healthy, with no diagnosed terminal illness you may not need all of the same pre-death forms, or may not want them. So, bear in mind that your own individual circumstance may dictate how you use this information. There are three documents that are most common and should fall into this first phase of planning. They are:
Living Will, which informs and advises how long you would be on life supports if any are required and how that determination is to be made. This should be discussed with your doctor and a copy should be held in your medical file. Also, it is wise to give a copy to the hospital you use and a copy to your family. Discuss this with your doctor. Doctors have forms that are standard for your state and fully legal. It takes the guesswork out of it.
Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) order: This is a document that informs any emergency medical
Medical Durable Power of Attorney: This document is another that should be on file with your doctor, hospital and family. This is a document authorizing the person you choose to make any necessary medical decision on your behalf that you are unable to make because of mental inability (dementia, unconscious, heavily medicated, etc.). This should have a first, second and third person listed, in the order of priority. The reason for this is to be certain that if the first person you have listed becomes unable to make decisions on your behalf, there is still another who can.
If you have specific wishes for your closing ceremony, spell that out in a separate document and hand it out to whoever will be responsible for making final arrangements. For example, if you want your remains to go to a particular mortuary or funeral home and you have or have not pre-arranged that, make sure the person in charge of making arrangements knows this. Include in this document any particular instructions you have like burial or cremation, where you are to be interred and any other information. If you want particular prayers, music, person to officiate a memorial, or if you have prepared your own eulogy, make sure it is known to the necessary parties before they are thrust into the position of deciding these things without realizing you have already done the hard work for them.
Actually, once you have gone through the emotion and brain work of accomplishing the above noted decisions and documents, you are better prepared to go on with the planning for longer term: plans for what happens in your absence. Following are recommendations for a variety of issues. Some may apply to you while others may not. All the same, the intent is to be sure that all the bases are covered in your planning. The ultimate gift you can give those who remain here when you depart is to be sure there is as little question as possible about your wishes and your circumstances at the time of your passing.
Make a list:
All of the above information and anything that you have that is not mentioned that comes to mind should be noted. Your list should have as complete information as possible. Make sure you include contact information for the above mentioned accounts, if possible.
Included in a document for reference, you want to have information about whether you have a will, trust, personal representative and other necessary information that takes the question out of your wishes. Make sure everything you document has a date. If there are conflicting dates on documents, the most currently dated document usually carries the weight.
If you have items you want transferred out of your name for some protection, do it now with someone who can vouch for your sound mind (like an attorney, doctor or other official whose word will be honored in probate). If you need to assign a durable power of attorney to help you if you “slip” in your ability to complete the tasks at hand, do so as a part of this whole process. This person may be the same as the person you have assigned for medical power of attorney, but does not have to be.
Keep a copy of your will, trust or other plan with a trusted person. If you don’t have someone you can trust, leave it with an attorney or find representative at the bank that you authorize to access your safety deposit box with proper authority. That authority will be a person who has a power of attorney. Remember that anything you have not accounted for and are not brought to bear by family or officials could either go to a state general fund if it is unclaimed, or if a claim hunter finds it and contacts your family later, they collect a fee in order for your family to gain the unclaimed property. If the fee is not accepted by the family then the asset (even if it is worthless) goes to
A simple, straightforward document that makes the process following death is really the very best way to go. It takes the guesswork out of planning and prevents family and close friends from over spending and making unwise decisions while they are still coming to terms with conclusion of your life.
Questions that come up during your preparation should be addressed by someone knowledgeable in whatever area the question. Funeral homes can be helpful, legal services that deal with probate and estate resolution can also be consulted. Check state laws about the handling of probate issues, and other areas of dispute you suspect may take place.
Finally, if there are items that you want to go to certain individuals that are not noted in a will or final testament, create a list of those items, with whom you desire receive them, then date and sign it. When delivering information to your family (or others for that matter) it is always wise to keep your copy in case there is ever any question. Your copy can be tucked away where it will be discovered at a later date and can also become part of a family history.
Best wishes for preparing yourself and your loved ones for one of the most powerful events we ever experience in our lives.