Life is short and sometimes it throws us the unexpected. We all recognize this and then, from time-to-time, we vow to make the most of the time we have. This is especially true when a tragedyhappens so close to home which seems to happen more and more these days.
As the Founder of I’m Sorry to Hear and Funerals360, a tech-startups helping families navigate end-of-life and funeral related topics, and as a Board Member & volunteer of the consumer advocacy group, Funeral Consumers Alliance of Greater Philadelphia, I am often the one that people turn to for answers on how to prepare ahead of time, information about how to respond when the unexpected happens, and questions regarding the financial aspects of these issues.
The thing is, none of us have an expiration date stamped on us, yet we all know that someday our time will come. Even though we know this, very few of us take steps to plan for the end in advance. While we cannot plan for everything, there are important yet easy steps we can take ahead of time that will ease the burden on you and your family when the time comes.
Create and Share an Advance Directive (aka “Living Will”)
An Advance Directive is a document you complete and share with your family or next-of-kin that informs those caring for you about the extent of medical treatment you want if you become incapacitated and unable to communicate.
It is comprised of 2 documents that, although separate, typically go hand-in-hand:
(a.k.a. healthcare power of attorney, or durable medical power of attorney)
A Healthcare Proxy is the document that pertains to the assignment of an agent to act on your behalf. It is up to you to name someone who will have the authority to make healthcare decisions or see yours through if you are physically or mentally unable to state your wishes at the time, whether temporarily or permanently.
(a.k.a. advance directive) –
A Living Will is the document specifically outlines the different levels of care you want and do not want. Through this record of wishes, in spite of having lost the ability to communicate, a person can be part of the medical team as the primary decision maker.
The reason for filling out this form is to avoid medical treatments that would prolong the dying process.
For more information on Advance Directives, see: What You Need to Know About Advance Directives
Make A Plan For Your Digital Assets
Not too long ago, the concept of “Digital Assets” didn’t even exist. Those prudent enough to document their wishes and indicate what to do with their the belongings when they were gone would take inventory of all their assets and designate who is to receive them in their Will or Estate Plan.
These days, along with your physical assets, it is wise to take inventory of all your digital assets, too. Documenting all of your digital accounts, how to access them, and what to do with them when you’re gone will relieve a huge burden for those left behind and provide you a level of control post-mortem. Facebook recently published an article about a new feature called “Facebook Legacy Contact.” Most social media sites have similar features that you can opt-into as well. Find all of them here: Social Media After Death.
There are several new-wave services out there that can compile and share your digital assets with (some free, some paid), but you can just as simply make a document, store it in the “cloud”, and share it with a couple of key people in your life so they can access it when the time comes.
Make Your Funeral Preferences Known Ahead of Time
One of the biggest points of contention in families is delivering on a funeral service that “you would have wanted.” Since many people do not openly talk about their wishes for their final affair, the family is left guessing and arguing over what to do.
Cremation, burial, or perhaps body donation? Simple or elaborate ceremony? Religious or not? To be embalmed or to go green? Simply thinking about these options ahead of time, discussing them with your family, and documenting them for future reference is a gift that you can give to them while you’re still here on this great earth.
Personally, I have made it a point to have this talk with my family (numerous times) so my wishes are quite clear in case of an accident or terminal illness. Simplicity and green are the way to go for me. Save the money on the funeral and, if you must, go on vacation in celebration of my love for travel and adventure (no obligation necessary).
Many people fear leaving a huge financial burden for their family when they die. Keep in mind a funeral is only as expensive as you want it to be. “Traditional funerals” are becoming a thing of the past as more people plan their own funeral experiences just like a wedding or birthday party. Designating a celebration of life graveside, at your favorite park, or an establishment you frequented is often more affordable and meaningful, allowing those in attendance to focus on celebrating your life in a truly personalized way. And that’s what’s important, whether your death is expected or unexpected.
I encourage you to contemplate these ideas now while you have the chance. Document your preferences and have a conversation (or more) with those that you choose to be involved when you no longer can be. Everyone, including yourself, will be better-off and grateful that you did!