As financial advisors, we spend a lot of time helping clients plan, and hopefully achieve, their future goals. Our conversations almost always focus on estate planning strategies and the legacy one wishes to leave for their family; however, two important subjects are frequently absent from those conversations:
- “What are the key steps I should take now, and what does my spouse do at my death?”
- “What do I want my end of life to look like?”
The simple truth is the finances of death can be very confusing to the surviving spouse. While we spend time on estate planning topics, conversations around the mechanics of implementing estate plans are frequently saved for later. Unfortunately, we often see two things happen when later comes: the surviving spouse is understandably overwhelmed at the exact time when much is required, or an unforeseen illness or death occurs and the family is left without a plan.
Planning for loved ones is important, but it is also important that you plan and discuss your vision for the aging process. Whether you wish to stay at home as long as possible or have family provide care in the final days, establishing these plans and sharing them with your family will reduce their stress when the time comes. In 2019, the Wall Street Journal published an article titled “Preparing for a Good End of Life.” In it, author Katy Butler recommends helping further define our final days beyond the general statements of “staying at home” or “family will help.” The following are key takeaways from the article that you should consider as you begin to plan for the future, now.
- Have a Vision: Think about what is most important to you as you visualize your end. Where do you want to be? Do you want to exhaust all possible medical treatments and fight to restore your health? Would you prefer to economize and lean on family members for care or move to an assisted living facility? Take a moment to consider your interests. Then share those desires with your loved ones and outline them in your advance directives. Be sure your designated power of attorney agrees to execute your wishes without wavering in a crisis.
- Stay in Charge: It is important to stay informed on matters of your health. Make sure you have a doctor who communicates clearly, agrees with, and supports what is important to you. If you are given a treatment plan that does not consider how you want to live, it is okay to seek out new care providers!
- Know the Trajectory of Your Illness: If you find yourself diagnosed with a serious illness, Butler suggests that it may be helpful to have your doctor draw a depiction illustrating the course of the diagnosis as opposed to asking how much time you have left. An illustration will help you better visualize what your health will look like at each stage of the illness, whereas a prediction of time left is unreliable. From here, you can determine the best next step, treatment or choose to emphasize comfort.
- Find Your Tribe and Arrange Caregivers: While many of us want to stay at home or have family members provide care until the end, it takes a lot of work to stay at home when seriously ill. Explain your desires to your loved ones and gain support for your plan. Establishing a principal caregiver is priority but be sure to also build a network of other friends and family members who can be called when you need assistance.
- Take Command of Your Space: No matter where you find yourself at the end, plan for the space you want. Don’t be afraid to ask caregivers for a special room arrangement, décor or even music. Hospitals are becoming more open to helping with these requests.
- Think of Death as a Rite of Passage: While no amount of planning can ensure control at the end, the author believes that by contemplating and accepting the reality of death we “can restore dignity, community and yes, even beauty to your final passage.”
If you are fortunate enough to plan with an advisor in advance of these concerns, be sure to discuss these topics in addition to overarching financial concerns and values. We have walked this road with many clients, and we truly understand the importance of making these plans. If you would like assistance planning for later, connect with a member of our team today.