By BILL CLARKE, Commentary | Published March 7, 2019
“Planning is a process of choosing among many options. If we do not choose to plan, then we choose to have others plan for us.” -Richard I. Winwood, Author
As I’ve shared before, one of our sons died suddenly at age 52. It was a tragic and shocking event emotionally and spiritually. What I haven’t shared before is that it was also a legal and financial challenge because he died without a will or any instructions or information about his personal affairs. It took us many months and a huge amount of effort and money to settle his estate.
Many people aren’t comfortable thinking about, let alone talking about and planning for death. However, as the end draws nearer than the beginning of our lives, it’s important we seniors carve out time to thoughtfully and prayerfully plan for our eventual passing. In fact, I think it’s an act of love to do so.
There are many facets to end-of-life planning, but I’d like to focus on basic and practical issues. First, a word of caution: I am not an attorney, accountant or financial planner. I cannot give advice or counsel on particular needs. You should ask a trained professional to guide you through issues that will impact your specific planning.
Whether you are a multi-millionaire or pension-check retiree, I recommend starting by contacting an attorney with expertise in wills and estate planning. Even the existence of a basic will can help clarify your wishes, avoid excess taxes and protect loved ones from additional headaches and heartaches.
As you work through plans, I suggest having open and honest discussions with the people in your life who will be affected. This may mean spouses and children. For others, this may be extended family, friends or business associates. An attorney or counselor may be able to facilitate discussions if you’re finding them difficult.
You may visit https://archatl.com/ministries-services/respect-life-ministry/end-of-life-issues/ for resources, particularly with regard to medical decision making. Below is a listing of some of the more important issues I suggest you discuss and plan for:
- Estate plan—a plan to distribute any remaining assets upon death.
- Last will and testament—how you want your property and possessions allocated or disposed of.
- Advance directives—written instructions regarding end-of-life medical care preferences.
- Living Will—spells out the types of treatments and life-sustaining measures you do or don’t want.
- Medical power of attorney—designates an individual who makes medical decisions in your behalf in the event you’re unable.
- Power of attorney—an instrument to delegate legal authority to another person.
- Executor—person appointed in your will to administer your estate.
- Trustee—an individual/organization that will hold, manage or invest the estate’s assets.
- Guardian—a person legally entrusted with managing property and rights of another person, usually for a minor.
- Funeral plans—what funeral home? Cremation or burial? Cemetery or burial plot? Planning can include level of expense; type of viewing; Mass and post funeral reception details.
- Obituary—preparing the highlights of your life for newspapers and funeral notifications.
- Contact list—names and contact information for funeral home, church arrangements, relatives and friends/associates to contact.
A recent article by Ellen Uzelac for NextAvenue detailed her plight as a widow who struggled to get her husband’s affairs in order after he died suddenly. She offered some excellent tips, including: making a list of user names, passwords and PINs for computer programs and accounts; preparing an inventory of what’s stored in safety deposit boxes or files; making sure accounts have joint access with the surviving spouse, knowing the location of important family and financial documents, asking an attorney for an advice on handling or minimizing estate probate requirements and updating beneficiary information on insurance, banking and investment accounts.
Uzelac also suggested carving out family time to discuss financial and end-of-life issues in advance, a process she calls “active loving.”
Most likely you’d rather spend your days planning celebrations and not for end-of-life issues. However, having lived through our son’s sudden death and estate resolution, I know that it will be time well spent. Perhaps sharing this article to open a conversation with your spouse, children, parents or other loved ones is what you need to get the process going.