6 things to think about for end of life planning

Caring for a person with a severe or terminal illness can be taxing, to say the least. One of the most difficult, but necessary, things to do is discuss the practical aspects of end-of-life planning before the person in your care actually needs to arrange these services.

The subject is undoubtedly unpleasant for everyone involved. However, the sooner it’s brought up, the more thoroughly these issues can be addressed. It’s much more difficult to think such things through when emotions are high and your thoughts are focused more on family and friends than planning a process or dealing with legal documents.

To save further headache and heartache later, here are a few sensitive topics that should be addressed before the time comes:

1. Distributing assets

Determining how a person’s property should be distributed after he or she has passed can be extremely difficult, especially if there are many family members involved.

The easiest way to minimize complications is to make sure the individual has a will that is current enough to accurately reflect his or her wishes. If an existing will was drafted a decade ago, there’s a good chance things have changed since then. It may be necessary to update accordingly.

Also remember that a person may have designated someone as a benefactor for financial assets a long time ago, but things may have changed. A beneficiary designation sometimes trumps what’s listed in a will, so it’s important for the two to match up to avoid issues with financial assets.

2. Medical means to prolong life

It’s also important to discuss whether a person wants to be kept alive through medical devices, and if so, for how long? You can decide to look at the question in a simpler way. If a person’s heart stops, or he or she cannot breathe independently, should lifesaving measures be attempted?

Answering these questions helps to preserve a person’s dignity and will give you the comfort of knowing that you are following through with that person’s wishes, should such steps need to be taken.

3. Welfare of surviving kids and pets

Make a plan to ensure minor children and pets will be properly cared for following the passing of a parent or guardian. Specifics about surviving kids under the age of 18 should be addressed in a will. Pets are sometimes forgotten due to the stress related to a person’s death, so be sure to make arrangements for them as well.

4. Paying for the funeral

Many people do not realize the actual cost of a funeral. Matters can become more complicated if surviving relatives allow personal emotions such as guilt to impact how much they spend on funeral arrangements.

Fortunately, options like pre-need funeral services eliminate many preventable hassles because the funerals are paid for in advance. This allows the associated individual to have a say in his or her own funeral arrangements, and removes uncertainty that may otherwise plague distraught family members.

5. Addressing end-of-life fears

As a caregiver, don’t underestimate the worth of finding a quiet time to talk with a person who may be nearing the end of his or her life. The individual may be scared about the possibility of dying in a strange place, leaving unfinished projects behind, having final wishes misunderstood or other related causes of stress. Make sure to give him or her an opportunity to raise those concerns in a secure place without feeling rushed.

6. Making decisions if a person is mentally incapable

There may be a time when a person can no longer make spontaneous decisions about his or her well-being, especially in situations of extreme pain, dementia or similar conditions.

A person who is close to the end of life may not be willing to have certain medical treatments performed or may not be in a state of mind to make decisions about such treatments. It’s important for caregivers and family members to have open and honest conversations about such situations. This way, it is determined in advance who has the right to step in and make decisions on a person’s behalf.

It’s true that these tough topics are not easy to bring up, especially when there are many other strong emotions in the equation.  However, by addressing these issues in advance, a person’s surviving relatives will be equipped to carry out his or her final wishes, knowing that they are truly what the person wanted.

Have you ever addressed any of these issues with someone you were caring for? What discussions did the person and family find the most helpful? What additional issues would you recommend addressing? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Written by Kayla Matthews
Kayla Matthews writes about medical technologies and news developments for publications like The Week, BioMed Central and Kareo's Go Practice Blog. To read more posts by Kayla, visit her on Twitter @KaylaEMatthews or check out her website: http://productivitybytes.com.

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  1. My husband got an insurance policy to cover his expenses. and handed the policy to his daughter to take care of. upon his death we learned it was an “accident only” life insurance’ she walked away and left me sit with it all. i now pay a loan for all the expenses. If your getting a policy make sure you know what you have.

  2. My mother selected me as her POA for Healthcare, Property, and the Executor of her Will (my only brother was next-in-line if I were unable to carry out my duties).
    I asked her some questions that aren’t typically covered within these types of documents…such as, Is there any certain type or color casket you would like? Do you want the casket open or closed? Do you want donations in lieu of flowers…if so what organization? Is there a specific kind of flower you want on the casket (and/or elsewhere)? Is there anything specific you would like to wear? Anything specific you would like to be burried with?
    My mom went so far as to write her own obituary! I laughed, but it certainly helped when it came time to actually write it!

    • It’s so good to know you have all of that stuff taken care of. A neighbor of mine also wrote her own obituary, had me colorize her favorite photo of herself from the 1940s, and submitted it to the papers so they’d have it on file. Some people know what they want and make sure they get it. : )


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