Death is a taboo topic. Many of us prefer not to discuss our own death or the death of someone we care about. In a sense, it is the ultimate white elephant in the room: we all know it is there, but we continually attempt to ignore it. However, every one of us will die. So, why is the topic so difficult to breach? In fact, the passing of life should be as well planned for as the coming of life. Just as we plan for a new child to enter this world by creating a nursery, buying their clothes, purchasing necessary supplies, the same should be true for a death. During our life, we should take the steps to plan for our inevitable death and potential incapacity in order to remove the burden from our loved ones. We should have our vital documents in place, funeral plans made and paid for, final wishes written down and known and our loved ones should be notified of whom to contact and what to do when the time comes.
Statistically, over 50% of us (some estimates goes as high as to say 80%) will become incapacitated during our life. For some period of time, most of us will not be able to take care of ourselves and will need the assistance of others to perform our daily functions. This is a humbling realization. During these times, we do not have the ability to make our own decisions and are putting our fate in the hands of others. What if we do not agree with their choices? If we have not planned ahead, we are at the mercy of others and can only hope they will make the decisions we wish. Instead, we should create Power of Attorney documents and a Living Will to instruct our loved ones and medical practitioners regarding our wishes. In these documents, you can dictate what methods of life preservation you do or do not want and whom will handle your medical and financial matters. Having these choices laid out will relieve your loved ones of the difficulty of making these decisions for you, and wondering if they have chosen correctly. It truly lifts a huge burden off their shoulders.
Preferences and situations change with time. We often do not know how we will feel about a situation until it draws nearer, or until we are in the midst of it. For this reason, your documents should be kept up-to-date. Also, you should not hesitate to discuss with your loved ones, especially those selected to be your health care agents, regarding your decisions and any changes. This conversation should be ongoing as time passes and life changes.
Do not allow death to be a taboo topic in your family: its avoidance will cause more harm than good. Instead, take control of your situation and take the burden from your family. Make certain you plan today, for we all will face the inevitable ending.
Contributed by MH Phoenix Estate Planning Attorney and Partner Dan R. Morris
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