It’s Not About You

It’s about those you love. 

Do you put your seat belt on when you get in the car? Most of us don’t even think about it. It’s automatic. And we require everyone riding with us to put theirs on, too. Have you thought that this simple act could be a gift of life? It’s protection for ourselves and those we love. Yes. Wearing a seat belt is law. Yet it took 15 years to become compulsory.

How long will it take for end-of-life planning to become automatic?

I doubt it will happen in my lifetime. If you’ve ever closed the estate of a loved one, you know that even with advanced planning it can be challenging. I want to be sure that my end-of-life planning is complete. 

This COVID-19 pandemic has me thinking. And according to a recent Genworth survey, it has served as a wake-up call for 75% of the 1000 respondents over 18 years of age who participated in the survey. 

Key findings of the survey include:

  • The pandemic caused one in three Americans to unexpectedly become caregivers.
  • With unemployment at historic levels 24% said they were less confident in their future financial security.
  • Almost 40% stated they were resolved to improve their health.
  • A third said they were making sure they were financially prepared to pay for future long-term care in the venue of their choosing.

Talking about death makes most of us uncomfortable

So we don’t do it. That’s a big mistake, because if you don’t have an end-of-life plan, your state’s laws decide who gets everything. A doctor you’ve never met could decide how you spend your last moments.

Betsy Simmons Hannibal, a senior legal editor at the legal website Nolo.com, puts it this way: Planning for the end of life isn’t about you. “You’re never going to really get the benefit of it. So you might as well think about how it’s going to be a lifetime gift that you’re giving now to your parents or your partner or your children. It really is for the people you love.”

She has outlined a few simple but practical steps to planning for the end of life. 

1. Name an executor.

If you’re an adult, you should have a will. Estate planning is not just for the rich. “It’s not just about the value of what you own. It’s also the feelings that you and your loved ones have about what you own.” It’s a big ask. She suggests asking the person if he/she would be comfortable wrapping up your estate when you die.

2. Take an inventory.

List everything you own, not just things that are financially valuable, but also those things that have sentimental value. Then list what you want to leave to whom.

If you have young children, name a guardian for them. Choose carefully, because that person will be responsible for your child’s schooling, health care decisions and value system.

Don’t forget your pets. They are considered property under the law, so be sure you name a new owner.

Digital accounts are also part of your property like social media accounts. Just as you write out specific instructions about your physical belongings, be clear about what you’d like to happen with your online information.

3. Think about health care decisions.

Your will takes care of what happens after death. An advance directive is a legal document that covers health care and protects your wishes at the end of your life.

There are two parts to an advance directive. The first is giving someone your medical power of attorney so the person can make decisions for you if you can’t. The other part is called a living will. That’s a document where you can put in writing how you should be cared for by health professionals.

Angel Grant and Michael Hebb founded the project Death Over Dinner to make it easier for people to talk about different aspects of death as they eat. “The dinner table is a very forgiving place for conversation. You’re breaking bread together. And there’s this warmth and connection,” says Grant.

Grant says reflecting on death automatically forces you to think about your life. “That’s the magic of it,” she says.

“We think it’s going to be morbid and heavy. But what these conversations do is they narrow down our understanding of what matters most to us in this life, which then gives us actionable steps to go forward living.”