By BILL CLARKE, Commentary | Published April 6, 2017
“The two most important days in your life are the day you were born and the day you discover the reason why.”
Most business plans have a concluding section called the “exit strategy” that describes how the owners of the business plan to recoup their investment when they achieve a desired goal or decide to sell, leave or retire. The exit strategy helps to focus the organization on maintaining the vision and purpose for its existence.
Similarly, all seniors should have a personal exit strategy that serves as a constant reminder of our primary purpose in this life. Sometimes we get so involved in our day-to-day issues that we lose sight of why God made us. The Baltimore catechism reminds us of our purpose with the question, “Why did God make me?” If you are a cradle Catholic and attended a Catholic elementary school, you memorized the answer and after many decades I suspect you can still recite it by heart. Do you remember? Ah, yes, it’s coming back … “God made me to know Him, to love Him and to serve Him in this world and to be happy with Him forever in the next.”
Sometimes we have to revert back to our early childhood to remind us of our purpose and reason for being. God did not put us here to achieve fame and fortune. We are here to serve him and our neighbor and someday to share eternity with Him. The Bible reminds us, “What does it profit a man if he gains the entire world but suffers the loss of his immortal soul” (Mk 8:36).
In short, we should never lose sight of our purpose.
The reality of life is that everyone will eventually die. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that we should prepare for it. Although remembering our purpose in life is primary, we also have the responsibility and obligation to prepare our last will, advance directives, funeral plans and our personal preferences. It just makes sense to prepare a personal exit strategy for your spouse and family.
Before proceeding further, I want to state something clearly: I am not an attorney. I cannot give advice or counsel on your particular needs. You should consult professionals to guide you through the issues that will impact your estate planning and exit strategy issues. If fees are an issue, or you are uncertain about what you need to do, there are numerous pro bono (free) or reduced fee alternatives in greater Atlanta. For a partial listing of helpful contacts, visit: http://statelaws.findlaw.com/georgia-law/free-legal-aid-in-atlanta.html.
Don’t let money or lack of knowledge about your end-of-life issues interfere with what you must do to ensure a peaceful transition. This is not something that you can afford to put off for some magical moment in the future. One of our sons died suddenly and tragically when he was only 52 years old. He didn’t have a will or advance directives or personal preferences. It was something he was always going to do. We were left scrambling to deal with the legal and personal issues. Please, make a commitment to do it now.
Following are some guidelines to use in preparing your exit strategy:
Do you and your spouse have an up-to-date last will and testament?
Do you have an attorney who understands your will and requirements? Will your attorney be available during your retirement years?
Have you prepared advanced directives (living will, medical power of attorney, and do-not-resuscitate orders) that spell out what you want done in the event you are incapacitated?
Do you have a power of attorney document that specifies who is legally allowed to make decisions in your behalf? Have you determined or updated your executor, administrator and trustee for handling the details of your will?
Do you have a current personal financial statement that lists your assets and liabilities? Contact information for your banks and investment firms? Account numbers? Passwords?
What are the things your spouse and family must know about your financial situation?
Have you sought advice to deal with probate and tax issues?
Have you had an “exit discussion” with your spouse and family members to advise them of your wishes?
Have you discussed and written down your funeral plans? Where? Formal, informal, private, public? Who officiates? Pallbearers? Eulogist? Hymns? Prayers? Post-funeral reception and arrangements?
Have you written down or provided your family with the highlights of your life to include in your obituary?
Have you specified your burial wishes? Where? Cremation? Body burial? Headstone?
Although some people are reluctant to talk about death, you need to overcome your anxiety and build up your inner strength to face the reality as best you can. The ideal approach would be to sit down with your spouse initially, then your family and talk about your will, financial situation and personal preferences. Then, make sure your adult children do the same.
Expressing your wishes
My wife and I found that it was not as difficult as we had imagined. We discussed and agreed on several basic issues and wrote them down as an attachment to our wills. Our children know the location of our wills and the attachment that is updated annually or when anything changes.
Following are some of the issues we covered in the attachment that can provide you with insights into the kind of things you might want to specify.
“The surviving partner will honor the wishes of the other unless both partners decease together. It is our desire that our bodies be cremated and interred in a natural burial ground. We do not want a viewing. A draft of the key points of our obituaries is attached. We desire a simple funeral Mass officiated by our pastor and concelebrated by our priest friends. The urn containing the cremains can be placed in front of the church with a picture of the deceased. We have selected the readings and songs for the service. We have indicated who we would like to serve as the eulogists. We would like our children, grandchildren, family and friends to honor our lives with prayers for our eternal well-being during and after the Mass.”
“After the service we want to have a gathering of family and friends to celebrate our lives, similar to a traditional Irish wake. Place a large montage of pictures and remembrances from our lives that can serve as a reminder of our many wonderful life experiences. Burial of our cremains in a plain wooden box in our family plot can be a private family event at a later date.”
Some might think that some of these details are unnecessary, but you have to remember that the planning for your departure is much like the planning you went through for your wedding. Most people put a lot of planning into their wedding because it is one of the most important days of your lives. The day of your death is the culmination of your life so why not put a similar amount of planning into your departure?
You will find that it is not as difficult as you might think, once you get over the reality that someday it will all come to pass, not whether but when.
Remember your purpose and prepare your exit strategy. Good luck and God bless.
Bill Clarke, former business executive, teacher and senior citizen, emerged from his third retirement to serve as the associate director of professional development for the archdiocesan Office of Formation and Discipleship. To send Bill your thoughts on this and other topics, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.