We have all heard the term “End-of-Life Planning”, but what exactly does that mean? I think for most of us, we think of it primarily as having an Advance Directive. Advance Directive is also referred to as a Living Will or even Medical Directives. These may also include a power of attorney or a health care proxy. Yes, these documents are so important, and everyone should have these in place because these could actually save your life. In short having these documents gives you a voice, when you may not be able to speak!
But for me and from personal experience, I have learned that this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to End-of-Life Planning. There is so much more to think about for the day when I am no longer here.
To illustrate what I am referring to I ask this question.
“What do you want the experience to be like for your family and loved ones when you are no longer here?”
Let me share our story of when my wife’s father, Ted, died in 2013. Ted’s death was unexpected, and while our family was dealing with our sudden loss we were doing our best to make funeral and burial arrangements that we hoped would be pleasing to him. We didn’t know what Ted’s final wishes were.
As it turned out, that was only the beginning of our struggles. Soon after the final arrangements were made, and Ted was laid to rest, we began the task of sorting through his finances. Michelle’s father was a private man. He handled all of the household finances and hadn’t really shared any information with his wife or the family.
It took us 10 months of digging through boxes and files and making exhaustive phone calls to locate all of the bank accounts, insurance policies, safe deposits, retirement and pension accounts, online accounts, and more. When we spoke with others about our situation, we found we were not alone. So, while dealing with the normal emotions of sadness and grief, we found ourselves wrapped up in some other not so normal emotions. Those being confusion, frustration, stress and yes, even some anger. These, by the way, are completely avoidable! I’m sure this is NOT what Ted wanted the experience for his family to be like!
Then it really struck me. What if something happened to Michelle and me? Our children are all either still in college or just beyond. They wouldn’t have a clue where to begin or even where to look. Likely, they would never be able to find all of our banking relationships, safe deposit boxes, retirement assets, proof of ownership documents or even our will (as they don’t even know our attorney). Further, how would they access all of our online accounts from social media to auto-drafts and bill-pay accounts. Much less be able to unlock our computers, tablets or smart phones. It would be a nightmare in the highest degree.
Frankly, I don’t want to add confusion, frustration and stress after I’m gone.
Let’s face it, life and our stuff, is significantly more complicated than it was 20 or 30 years ago. Technology has made it so. Technology, while simplifying our lives immensely, has made for a very complicated departure. But, it doesn’t have to be that way! We simply need to do some planning. And, it isn’t hard!
Heck, by nature, we are planners. We plan for everything! We make a list to go to the grocery store; we plan what we want to do over the weekend; we plan on what we will wear on that special date; we plan anniversaries; birthday parties; weddings; prepare for births; graduations; vacations; our retirement; we even plan what we are going to have for dinner and what we will watch on TV later tonight. But most of us don’t want to think about or plan for our own death. Why is that?
I think it’s because all those other things I plan for, are for my own benefit. Planning for when I am no longer here doesn’t benefit me, it benefits others. But hey, it is my life and I created this complexity so why should others have to struggle with cleaning it up?
So be thoughtfully prepared. It doesn’t need to be daunting or overwhelming. It is a final act of love and possibly the greatest gift I can give to my family.
I call it Death Etiquette!
In the Next Blog:
I will be discussing the real definition of Death Etiquette, The 10 Things You Need To Know, and simple strategies to get your planning done!