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It's Always the Right Time for End-of-Life Planning

I lost a client last week, and like other times when I have lost a client, I learned something very important. It’s hard to think about death being a blessing, but in her case, it might have been. Marge taught me that it’s never too early to plan for the end of life.

Marge had done her end-of-life planning long before she became sick. She had spent time thinking about whether she wanted to be buried or cremated. She thought about the memorial service she wanted, down to the songs and biblical passages she wanted as part of the service. She put her wishes in writing and made sure her daughter knew about them. Not only did her planning allow for her wishes to be carried out the way she wanted, but it allowed the family to prepare for the service without the additional emotional burden of trying to guess what Mom would have wanted. 

We all have physical, emotional and spiritual needs. Thinking about, and planning for, our own funeral is not easy or fun. But if we do, we can allow our friends and family to focus on celebrating our life and our memories when the time comes. And planning is the only way to make sure what we want to happen, actually happens. 

Planning for the End of Life

  • First, make sure your estate documents are up to date. Make sure your will is current. It is the document that will identify the loved one who will oversee wrapping up your estate and will distribute your property according to your wishes. While you are making sure your will is up to date, it’s a good time to make sure you have named a power of attorney and a health care surrogate. This will be the person (or people) you trust to make financial and health care decisions on your behalf in case you are unable to. 
  • Burial or cremation? Many of us have strong beliefs about which we prefer. Both choices come with several other decisions for you to consider. If you prefer burial, do you want in-ground or mausoleum? What type of casket would you like? If you want to be cremated, what do you want to happen to your remains?
  • Traditional funeral or celebration of life? This will often depend on your religious beliefs. My friend Marge had a traditional Catholic funeral service. I would prefer a gathering of friends with some music I have chosen for the occasion and maybe a few folks sharing memories.
  • The funeral industry likes to promote prepaid services to ease the burden on your loved ones. I’m not a big proponent of these arrangements because your plans might change between the time you prepay and the time you pass away. I think it’s often better to earmark some of your financial assets to cover the costs when the time comes. 

The other benefit of doing your own planning is to minimize any family conflicts. It is almost inevitable that, without a plan in place, some family dynamics will make the process even more costly and emotional.

It is always the right time to start preparing an end-of-life plan. It will make you a bit uncomfortable for a little while, but the peace of mind it will bring you afterward will be well worth it. 

(For more from this author, see: How to Prepare for Rising Long-Term Care Premiums.)