The ‘death checklist’

— Choosing your agents

OK, maybe the ‘life checklist’ sounds better. Either way, this starts a whole series of reports to get us ready for the end.

By Jason Wheeler

Show of hands: Who is ready to die? OK, that certainly doesn’t sound appealing.

So, as we do a whole series of reports about preparing for future eventualities, we’ll change the original idea from ‘The Death Checklist’ to ‘The Life Checklist’.

That makes sense anyway because preparing your finances for after you die is a part of life. And it’s a critical part for the people you leave behind.

Let’s start with the care you get that may keep you from dying right now.

Texas has long led the nation in the number of people who are uninsured. It’s a good idea to have health insurance in some form. Because if things go really wrong for you health-wise, it gets costly fast. The average hospital bill in Texas went up 38% from 2016 to 2020. The costs can be an onerous burden even if you are covered. But especially if you are not, those bills can quickly diminish the assets you might have been planning to leave behind to loved ones.

Choosing someone to make your health care decisions if you cannot

Regardless of your insurance situation, if you end up needing treatment, it may help you and those who care about you to designate someone now to be your agent with a medical power of attorney.

Some recommendations say if you are married you should fill out one of these forms too, even if the agent you name is your spouse.

In addition to filling out the form, you discuss your medical wishes with your designated medical power of attorney in case something happens to you, and you are unable or incompetent anymore to make your medical wishes known to healthcare providers.

Make sure the person you designate is someone you trust…and that it is someone who makes good decisions under pressure (and may be able to withstand pressure from other family members who might want something for you that goes against your wishes).

In this document you can limit the decisions your agent can make, you can allow it to go on indefinitely or put an expiration date on it, and you can choose alternate agents in case your agent dies or is incapacitated with you. You can also subsequently revoke this document and make a new one if you choose.

Choosing someone to handle your financial affairs if you cannot

If you want to designate the same person or another person to also handle your financial affairs, and make those decisions when you cannot, that’s going to require another document.

Whoever you select to handle your financial affairs if you are unable to, you want to make sure you really trust the person.

If you select this person to have what is called a durable power of attorney, they can make decisions about a lot of different things involving your money. On the form, you can initial the things they can do regarding your money, your possessions, your real estate, investments, social security, retirement, and other things…even your digital assets and content of electronic communications.

You can also limit or extend their powers. And you get to decide when the durable power of attorney begins.

You can also opt for co-agents and decide if they work together or work independently on your behalf. This would be in effect until your death. But you can revoke it, too.

If that seems like too much there are also limited powers of attorney for things like selling an automobile or dealing with your taxes.

You can also read more about powers of attorney here and here.

Complete Article HERE!

Dance Me to the End of Time

— South African film on death is a powerful celebration of life

Activist and theatre director Nancy Diuguid, left, with partner and film-maker Melanie Chait.


In her 2021 documentary Dance Me to the End of Time, South African film-maker and educator Melanie Chait has produced a truly great film. Not only for the breadth of themes it broaches – from cancer to green activism, from lesbian love to arts therapy – but also for the intensity with which she deals with these themes.

One of the hallmarks of a great film is its ability to transport audiences; to hold their undivided attention and evoke deep emotions in them. The documentary does this, as it pieces together four years of home movie footage filmed by Chait.

This very personal, award-winning film chronicles the final years and death of Chait’s life partner, London theatre director Nancy Diuguid. Diuguid died from breast cancer. The film is, of course, more than just about the death of Diuguid. It is also about the triumph of lesbian love in the face of death as well as the ecological and feminist politics of Chait and Diuguid.

In the process it elevates itself above death and disease to become a veritable celebration of life and love. Powerfully original, it is also likely to change the way people think about the food they eat and how it is produced. This is particularly important given the ever increasing prevalence of cancers.

The art of death

Dance Me to the End of Time has been enjoying a successful festival run after premiering at the Encounters documentary festival in South Africa and has won several international awards.

The documentary fits into a genre of film-making which focuses on disease, dying and death. This genre was popularised in the early 1990s by films which documented the death of people living with AIDS. These are films such as Silverlake Life by US director Tom Joslin and Modesty and Shame by French writer and photographer Hervé Guibert. I argue in an article on this genre that there is something more to such films than just the representation of diseased bodies and slow deaths.

Dance Me to the End of Time shows how two women face the presence and reality of death. Diuguid thinks through how, although she was losing control of her body, she still wanted to be “present in the process of dying”. Chait contends with the idea of losing her loved one. She expresses her helplessness in offering the comfort that her dying lover required:

It felt like I was playing God: deciding what to do, when. Nancy was so unlike the Nancy I had known. I only wished I could do better with the process of knowing how to comfort and help ease her anguish.

Despite the difficult conversations they have about death and the meaning of loneliness, it’s fascinating how the film eloquently demonstrates that even in the face of death, the couple was able to experience happiness. In many instances, Diuguid is filmed swimming in the ocean or dancing with their adopted son, Desmond. This film is a beautiful ode to lesbian love, an elegy of two women loving one another through sickness and health.

Ecological and feminist politics

Chait also weaves into this personal story the important feminist and ecological work that the couple did to expose the health dangers of pesticides. When diagnosed with cancer, Diuguid decided to adopt a holistic, integrated medical approach combining traditional medicine and natural methods.

The story of US scientist and ecologist Rachel Carson is woven into that of Chait and Diuguid. From as far back as the early 1960s, Carson had exposed the health hazards of pesticides, especially DDT, used to spray farm crops. Diuguid grew up on a farm in Kentucky and experienced how small wildlife would be killed days after the spraying of their farm.

A black and white photo of a woman in a collared shirt, smiling.
Rachel Carson.

Diuguid and Carson both died of cancer. By drawing parallels between their lives, the film highlights the politics of what and who is responsible for causing cancer. In its focus on the gruesomeness of the effects on cancer, Dance Me to the End of Time is itself political in dealing with ecological questions and the impact of pesticides.

The film also shows how, when Diuguid was diagnosed, she was able to use the creative arts and her lesbian identity as tools to campaign for justice and to heal others. Through an initiative called VOICES, she used expressive arts to help women and children deal with trauma in the townships of Johannesburg. In addition to the historical trauma of apartheid, townships in South Africa have had to do contend with high levels of intimate forms of violence.

Vulnerability and dignity

A film poster featuring two women, one lying in bed.

Even in chronicling Diuguid’s dying, the film does not rob her of her dignity and humanity.

In fact, the film celebrates her life and her important work in expressive arts therapy.

In its personal and deeply emotional texture, Dance Me to The End of Time offers a sincere depiction of how to face death and more importantly how to live life to its fullest.

Complete Article HERE!

A Good Death: A Father, a Daughter, an End-of-Life Decision

— Jennifer O’Brien’s father broke his hip while contending with advanced congestive heart failure. He declined surgery to fix it, opting for a peaceful death instead. She supported him. The system did not.

By Jennifer A. O’Brien, MSOD

“Your dad declined the surgery to repair his hip fracture,” the anesthesiologist blurted incredulously over the phone. “Okay. I guess there’s no surgery then,” I responded. “Well, here, talk to the orthopedic surgeon,” he protested. I shrugged and said, “Okay” to no one as the anesthesiologist handed the phone to the orthopedic surgeon. The surgeon came on: “Your dad declined the surgery!” he exclaimed. “I heard,” I said. “I mean, your father said ‘No!’” I could visualize the surgeon’s wide eyes.

My dad was 85 years old with advanced congestive heart failure and severe lung disease. He had fallen two days before and sustained a neck of femur (NOF) fracture, also known as a hip fracture. I had been very involved in my dad’s healthcare for several years. His mind was sharp.

Several years before that, he had signed a do not resuscitate (DNR) order, a legal document saying that in the event of a cardiac arrest he did not want to be resuscitated, as well as a do not intubate (DNI) order, a legal document stating he did not want to be intubated in an emergent situation in which he was unable to breathe. Because “Do not ____” instructs clinicians to hold something back, these code status documents may also be referred to as an instruction to “allow natural death.”

The orthopedic surgeon was unconvinced, however, and pressed on. “He declined the surgery!” “Yes, I heard. My dad is crystal clear cognitively and entirely capable of making this decision, so I guess you can take the rest of the night off,” I told him. The surgeon chuckled and mumbled, “I wish.” At this point, he seemed to realize that while he may have to work into the night, it would not include operating on Jim O’Brien. We said our goodbyes and hung up.

About 30 minutes later, I called my dad and told him that while I would have supported his decision either way, I felt he had made a good choice.

My dad’s congestive heart failure had reached the final stage. He barely had the strength to stand and ambulate enough for trips to the bathroom. A sudden cardiac arrest was distinctly possible, if not likely. His advanced lung disease meant that for the last two years, his ability to breathe had been entirely dependent on a bilevel positive airway pressure, or “BiPAP,” ventilator.

By “entirely dependent,” I mean he could not exist, for even a few minutes, without a large face mask that covered his nose and mouth while forcing oxygen into his lungs. He could eat for a few minutes at a time but had to have a nasal cannula in order to breathe.

He was likely to die soon, and a major surgery now might well have ruined any chance he had of a peaceful, comfortable end of life.

The reactions of the two physicians who called made me realize that our case was unusual, both because of my dad’s decision against surgery and my unequivocal support of his decision. I got the impression most family members would have responded, “Oh no, let me talk to him.” They would have then called and said, “Daddy, if you don’t have this surgery you are going to die!”

But here’s the thing, he was going to die.

And while our deaths may not be as imminent as his was, so am I and so are you going to die. At the end of life comes death. At the end of a long life, with or without comorbidities, an NOF fracture may indeed be the onset of that final phase of life.

My late husband, a surgeon for 30-plus years and then a retrained, board-certified palliative medicine physician for another 10 years, named this final phase of life “Precious Time.”

He always said it with the emphasis on the first word, Precious Time. Precious Time is when death is likely, if not imminent. Precious Time is a type of time, the period of life that comes at the end. Not everyone has Precious Time; a sudden death does not allow for Precious Time.

Knowing that a loved one is into Precious Time allows for saying what needs to be said and doing what needs to be done, such as: I love yous, apologies, and reconciliations. Precious Time allows you to keep to yourself and not say what you might later regret. In recognizing that we are into Precious Time, we can minimize or eliminate the subsequent I-thought-we-had-more-time regrets and focus on the love, the honor, and the bereavement rather than a vague or acute befuddled remorse because we just didn’t want to talk about end of life.

Even with surgery to repair the hip fracture, there is a 27 percent 12-month mortality rate among 65-plus-year-olds. That is, there is a 27 percent chance that an otherwise healthy 65-year-old will not survive more than a year post NOF fracture. Add more years and comorbidities, and that mortality rate only increases. In other words, an NOF fracture, with or without surgery, is often the beginning of the end.

Another statistic is that 80 percent of people want to die at home rather than in a hospital or facility, “hooked up to a bunch of machines,” yet only about 20 percent do.

If we put these statistics together and add our just-fix-it culture, which has us operating now and asking questions later, I submit that a patient having to remain intubated postoperatively or never recovering is not the way we make the most of that Precious Time and not the way that most people want to spend their last days, weeks, or months.

And, having now lost every member of my family, including my husband, I can say from experience that when surviving loved ones are able to recognize and face that they are into Precious Time, they are likely to have an easier transition to grief and loss.

Fortunately for my father and me, my late husband taught me well. After my dad’s decision to forgo the surgery, I got in the car and drove across the country. In his hospital room, we talked about the fact that he was dying, and that the most comfortable way for that to happen was to convert his inpatient status to hospice, remove the BiPAP after a sedative, and he would sleep into an entirely natural death.

My dad and I spent our Precious Time together. We said our goodbyes as the medication took effect. I told him I loved him because I know that hearing is the last sense to go. I stayed with him until he took his last breath and then made the disposition arrangements we had discussed years prior. It was a beautiful, peaceful death at 85 years old, one week post NOF fracture.

In the three years since I had allowed the art journal I kept during the 22 months I cared for my husband, and about 18 months after his death, to be published as the book The Hospice Doctor’s Widow: A Journal, I have spoken on what I call the Triad of Certainty:

  1. At the end of life comes death.
  2. There are no do-overs in end of life.
  3. Changed forever, surviving loved ones remain and remember.

There is absolutely no one who will not die at the end of life — no one. Some of us don’t get married, don’t have children, but all of us die. And if we are lucky enough to love others, there is a good chance that one or more of them will die before us and their death will have an impact on us for the rest of our lives.

I am not saying that if you or your elder loved one sustains a NOF fracture, they should forgo the surgery. I am saying that protocol for an NOF fracture in a patient older than 65 should call for a pause rather than an unquestioned trip to the OR.

And that pause should include a consultation with a family practitioner, gerontologist, palliative care team, medical ethicist, social worker, end-of-life doula or whoever can facilitate a meaningful conversation, or more likely a series of conversations. These conversations should assist the patient and family in recognizing Precious Time, establishing the goals of care, and having a say in designing their end-of-life experience (even if it ends up being years hence).

Complete Article HERE!

Making Meaning of Life When They Say “You Are Dying”

— What we know about suffering at the end of life is that it is most frequently a result of a psychological condition known as demoralization. It is defined by hopelessness, helplessness, and isolation. It is not physical pain people suffer from, rather, in the end, we most frequently suffer from existential pain. Demoralization is existential pain.


  • Finding meaning is essential to a good death experience.
  • There are a variety of ways to counter demoralization.
  • Early referral to hospice increases guidance to remoralization.
  • Finding meaning at the end of life is heavy lifting but worth the work.

Responding to a terminal diagnosis

Demoralization is a normal response to being told you have a terminal condition. You are suddenly acutely aware of your own mortality. You know you may not be there for a wedding, the birth of a grandchild, or a myriad of many other milestones. People realize the large sum in their savings does not affect the inevitable. One may wonder if that number will be enough to cover their daughter’s college tuition. Meaning is often measured by achievement, and now you have limited time to meet the goals you have planned or time to set new goals.

A typical death and outliers

While many still believe that death is a painful process, the fact is that most deaths are uneventful. There are times when people die in pain, but this is typically a result of a patient being treated by a non-pain or palliative care specialist. Unfortunately, such patients are often referred to hospice or palliative care too late when there is not enough time to manage patients symptoms. It is existential suffering that is more common at the end of life.

The importance of hospice

Early referral to hospice will not only help to assure a peaceful and painless death. It will also help to reverse demoralization. Hospice offers an interdisciplinary team that consists of a registered nurse, chaplain, social worker, home health aide, and a physician as the core team. It also consists of ancillary team members, which may include art and music therapists. Some hospices even offer massage or Reiki therapy. These all work together to increase meaning.

Hospice is adept at helping patients to find meaning in their lives as the end comes near. When meaning occurs, it is beautiful. This is known as remoralization. There was a case of remoralization that took place over ten years ago with a young woman who was only 22 years old, very angry, and dying. Her process of remoralization was a stellar example of how this is possible.

Ways to find meaning in life before it ends

There are several ways that individuals and clinicians work to find meaning. This section illustrates various means to work towards finding meaning at the end-of-life.

“Go Wish”: an educational game

During resident education, a game called Go Wish has been used. It is a card game that depicts possible goals on the face of each card that the participant prioritizes. The deck includes such goals as “I don’t want to die in pain,” “I don’t want to be a burden to my family,” “I want to feel close to God,” or “I want to be clean”. The surprising result of this game is that rarely are the things the clinician believes should be important coincides with what the clinician values as they step out of their role and examine what they would want for themselves at the end of life.

Determining and clarifying values is a step towards finding meaning at the end of life. The game was actually designed to be used by patients and families to make sure that the patient’s wishes are understood by the family or proxy. This game was studied, and it was found that frequently there is a vast difference between what the patient would like and what the family believes the patient would like. This game is available online as a card deck or can be played online.

Dignity therapy and life review

Another, more in-depth way to find meaning at the end of one’s life is through processes known as dignity therapy or a life review. The intervention involves storytelling, reminiscing, and highlighting milestones from one’s past. It has been reported by patients that these interventions decrease depression, increase quality of life, and increase a sense of dignity. This is accomplished with the help of someone on the interdisciplinary team and is recorded digitally or in print. The patient is given the document to do what they please.

Building a legacy

Should someone give this document to a loved one, it would then be considered a part of something known as life review. Legacy building is not just telling someone your life’s story. It may be finding meaningful photos and organizing them, so future generations know who their ancestors are and not lose sight of their histories. It could be making a recording of a song that your mother sang to you as a baby so that it can be played to your grandchild. It could be a letter written for your young son to read on his wedding day. Whilst this can be sad, it is also a work of beauty and great joy can be the end result.

Working towards reconciliation

Probably the most difficult is to make meaning through reconciliation and redemption. Not all family relationships are ideal, for that matter, there is no perfect family relationship. In hospice, it is often said that “hospice puts the fun in dysfunction.” We all know that over the years when you are close to someone, there will be a history of slights, moments of anger, and some disappointments. This is true in some relationships, more than others. How do we mend these fences when we are so close to death, and we thought we would always have more time? Ira Byock wrote a book called The Four Things That Matter Most. In it, he says that there are four things everyone should say to those they love before they die. Those four things are: “please forgive me, I forgive you, thank you, and I love you.”

These are difficult tasks, but at the risk of sounding like an old timer, anything worth accomplishing isn’t easy. We don’t grow in times of comfort. We grow during times of adversity. There will surely be tears, but there will be tears in any case when someone dies. This is hard work, however, meaning at the end will help the dying and the bereaved. It not only brings meaning to the dying but helps to ease the pain of those left behind as they grieve.

Complete Article HERE!

Voluntary stopping eating and drinking


Sometimes conversations with other elders are about how we want our deaths to be. We want them gentle, peaceful, surrounded by loved ones (or not). Many friends of mine have died recently. One had a beautiful and loving end surrounded by family. Another, a sudden heart attack at home with no warning. One, in a hospital with a long, drawn out, excruciating yet courageous, few weeks. Another, from taking his own life – he was ready.

We have accidents, illnesses and our bodies just wear out.

A 2018 Stanford University School of Medicine study found that 80% of us prefer to die at home. However, about three-quarters of older Americans die in nursing homes or hospitals. Leading causes of death for people over age 65 are: 1) heart disease, 2) cancer, and 3) lower respiratory disease. We can see that the hospital scenario is obvious for many of us.

Another choice we have has recently come to my attention. If we get to a place that is unacceptable to us as far as pain, quality of life issues and never-ending suffering, there is something called Voluntary Stopping Eating and Drinking – VSED. It is a way to end suffering in a fairly gentle, peaceful and predictable way. Animals sometimes wander off and die this way.

This choice has been used by terminally ill people throughout modern history. Many on the verge of death come naturally to this process – they no longer want to eat, although they do desire water. One of my friends died recently in this manner and it was all just so instinctive and spontaneous.

I’ve just read “The VSED Handbook,” by Kate Christie. Her mother had early onset Alzheimer’s and was determined not to end up in a memory care facility. They worked together while she was still lucid, along with others in her family, a care team headed by a death doula, a doctor and a lawyer to enable her to go through this process smoothly, and avoid the horrors of late-stage Alzheimer’s.

This book offers an actionable plan emphasizing the importance of planning, palliative care and a network of support. It is a fascinating account of how one person stayed out of a memory care center. Christie also describes what to expect from each stage of the VSED process, and the highlights and challenges, and unexpected gifts of accompanying her dying mother on her final journey.

Some acquaintances have mentioned wanting “something in the closet” in case they need it eventually, depending on how their later years go. VSED seems to be it. While Medical Aid in Dying is the law in Colorado if you have a six-month fatal diagnosis, VSED is not authorized by state statue or by court ruling. But that doesn’t mean it’s illegal.

VSED is legal nationwide. The U.S. Supreme Court, in Cruzan v. Missouri, 1990, said a “competent person would have the right to refuse lifesaving hydration and nutrition.” Therefore, VSED is legal for a person nearing the end of life who has the mental capacity to make their own medical decisions. This shows how important it is to have Advance Directives, and to make them early while we’re competent, so in case something happens, we’re set!

This differs from SED (stopping eating or drinking), which is governed by different laws that authorize withdrawal by health care professionals of fluids and nutrition, authorized by the patient’s advance directives. (

It may be more difficult for people who are not terminally ill to receive health care support through the VSED process. However, Hospice assures me that they would support someone midway through the dying process or if they are comatose, with a doctor’s order. They have always been on the compassionate side of the dying and have assisted with many cases similar to this.

More information about all this can be found at and

Shouldn’t elders who feel they’ve lived a completed life have this choice, no matter what the circumstance? And with no criticism, or shame? It’s about dying the same as living – making conscious decisions that work for us. And, having a death with some grace and dignity.

Complete Article HERE!

The average end-of-life expenses are more than $17,000

— But life insurance can cover that and much more

Whole life insurance has fixed premiums and death benefits, so they won’t fluctuate over the policy’s duration.


  • The average family will spend $17,199 on funeral and legal costs before estates are settled.
  • The higher your income, the longer it will take to settle your estate.
  • Even a small guaranteed-issue life insurance plan can counterbalance end-of-life costs.

According to a cost of dying report from, creators of the Empathy mobile app, which is designed to guide families through the grieving and post-death process, the average beneficiary in the US spends $17,199 on things like court costs, funerals, and more. The average estate is not settled for months or even years due to court filings, disputes, and other largely administrative aspects.

What does this mean for loved ones? In short, you’ll need to come out of pocket with $17,199 or more when the the median bank account balance of the average American is just $5,300 according to the Federal Reserve’s most recent Survey of Consumer Finances. This is where having an adequate life insurance policy can make all the difference.

Preparation means communication

Above all else, Empathy co-founder and CEO Ron Gura recommends communication, even over-communication, before death. He says regardless of age, health, or current income, “you need to put your last wishes in place, have sensible conversations with your loved ones, have a guardianship document, advanced directives, etc.”

Free online services allow anybody to create a will. Hospitals will file advanced directives for you. But it starts with communication. We have to talk about death in a way we’ve traditionally avoided in virtually every culture. For many, this also means talking about life insurance and buying a policy that makes sense for you.

How does life insurance protect your loved ones?

A common mantra of experienced life insurance agents and financial planners is also incredibly discouraging for the average consumer: “The most motivated client I have is the one for whom it’s already too late.”

It’s easy to be denied life insurance if you wait too long. Conditions like diabetes, cancer, and sleep apnea affect aging adults without warning, and you may not have as much time as you think. The increase in rates of type 2 diabetes starts at just 45, according to the CDC.

The average figure of $17,199 for costs that must be paid almost immediately after death puts pressure on families already struggling with grief. Even if you’re only interested in a cheap funeral life insurance policy, the price is inevitably lower when you buy early.

When I asked Gura about life insurance in the early days after death, he said, “Whole life and universal life insurance used in planning is very, very impactful. Policies have been around for hundreds of years, and people who have those have one layer less to worry about.”

When I consulted Patricia Stallworth, CFP and financial advisor at The Moneywise Woman, about small funeral policies, she said, “Small policies are a good option if there is nothing else, but they tend to be very costly. If funeral costs are the only concern, I recommend self-insuring if possible. Just setting the money aside in a separate fund – preferably one that is earning interest.”

In short, if you find yourself without savings at a later age, a funeral policy can help your loved ones. However, an interest-bearing fund opened early is best if funeral costs are your only concern. For larger goals like building generational wealth, starting early would be your best option regardless.

Protect loved ones from predatory loans with life insurance

While the average short-term costs after death come in at nearly $20,000, the average American may have just $5,300. Unfortunately, a funeral home has to collect payment at the time of the service to keep its doors open, leaving grieving families stuck in the middle.

It’s unsurprising that, as Gura has found, “25% of people are taking out a loan. Some of the loans are not exactly taken from JPMorgan. They’re taken from predatory lenders at a very vulnerable moment in time.”

Beneficiaries could spend years, even the rest of their lives, buried under the debt of these loan sharks or other predatory loans. The original $17,199 paid will quadruple with interest charges.

Even a $25,000 life insurance policy can pay short-term costs without interest or loan repayment. Ironically, the more money you have, the more beneficiaries pay. As such, life insurance should be proportional to your current income.

Going beyond end-of-life costs 

The lack of financial preparation and communication can financially and otherwise devastate families, especially those already struggling financially. A small funeral policy covering short-term costs can help stabilize loved ones after a loss, but a more extensive policy can build generational wealth.

For example, let’s look at a modest $300,000 whole life insurance policy. Premiums are likely very affordable for young buyers. By the time everything is settled, families might spend around $20,000 to $30,000 to settle a single estate if things go smoothly, leaving loved ones $270,000-$280,000 in tax-free life insurance benefits.

Even if you’re not ready to have the discussion about end-of-life arrangements, life insurance is also made for the living. Many large policies have other withdrawal options built in. More specifically, policyholders can take early withdrawals and life insurance loans.

If you want to see what this means for you, first schedule an appointment with an experienced financial advisor with knowledge of life insurance options. Based on her experience as a seasoned CFP, Stallworth says, “In preparing to help loved ones – depending on the situation, a financial advisor can either work with the estate attorney or go through a checklist of things that need to be reviewed such as wills, the titling of various assets, beneficiaries on various accounts and whether a trust might be appropriate.”

Complete Article HERE!

The Various Costs of Dying

— A new report breaks down what it costs to die, giving further reason to make clear final arrangements

By Emma Suttie

As a culture, we don’t like to talk about death. Even though it’s the destination we all share, regardless of our beliefs, most of us prefer not to think about it. Unfortunately, this aversion leaves most of us unprepared for death when it arrives, making things harder for the loved ones left to manage our affairs.

A new report looks at the cost of dying in the United States, from the material costs to the emotional and physical toll it takes on those left behind.

The report was created by Empathy–a company that helps people manage the logistics and emotional hardships associated with death. The company surveyed almost 1,500 people who had experienced the loss of a close family member in the last five years. Their goal was to try to quantify and better understand what they went through.

Here are some interesting findings from the report:

  • 3 million people die in the U.S. every year
  • 68 percent of Americans who are grieving suffer physical symptoms
  • An average of 540 hours of work are spent settling a loved one’s affairs
  • It takes families an average of 12.5 months to resolve all financial matters after the death of a loved one
  • 20 percent of the workforce is grieving a recent loss at any given moment

The Financial Cost

Perhaps the most astonishing figure from the report was that the average direct financial costs related to the death of a loved one can reach $20,000. This includes things like the cost of the funeral and financial and legal matters that must be dealt with when a person dies.

The report found that the average cost of a funeral is $7,848, the cost of financial matters averages $4,384, and legal matters cost an average of $4,967. Using these numbers, it’s easy to see how the cost can easily climb to $20,000 and beyond. And these are only part of the financial costs associated with dying.

Other financial costs the report included in their analysis are those associated with the total funeral costs, like payments to the funeral home ($3,584), the burial plot ($1,841), catering and refreshments ($602), hiring officiants, priests or other clergy ($472), music ($136), and invitations ($111).

How Loss Affects the Mind & Body

There are other, less tangible consequences as well—like grief—which is a highly personal experience that people are grappling with while having to contend with all the tasks associated with the death of someone they love, which only complicates the process further.

The stress and emotional strain associated with a loved one’s death often lead to physical symptoms. The report found that 93 percent of those surveyed suffered from at least one physical or mental symptom after their loss, 83 percent suffered anxiety, with 46 percent suffering for a few months or more. None of this seems surprising, considering that grief can be an overpowering emotion, and after the loss of someone close to us, we have an immediate increase in tasks and responsibilities to manage the affairs of the one we’ve lost.

Other physical and mental symptoms that lasted more than a few months reported in the study were:

  • Memory problems (30 percent)
  • Unusual anger or irritability (30 percent)
  • Weight loss or gain (33 percent)
  • Irregular sleep patterns (38 percent)

And the above numbers increased significantly if the person happened to be the executor of the deceased person’s estate–a job that comes with considerable responsibility and its own unique stresses.

How to Prepare–for Peace of Mind

Although our views about death are highly individual, there are things that we can all do to help prepare for it when the time comes. Preparation can help us relieve some anxiety, think about what we want, as well as think through some of the logistics, which will help others have a clear roadmap of what we desire and how to make it happen.

There are a lot of things to consider when we begin thinking about our own death. And although this can initially seem an anxiety-producing activity, it can actually be very grounding and help give one a sense of peace.

Here are some things to think about, broken into different categories:

If you are diagnosed with an illness and need healthcare, here are some considerations:

  • Do my loved ones fully understand my condition and what to expect?
  • Have I expressed exactly what medical interventions I want and ones I don’t?
  • At what stage do I want to waive further medical interventions or procedures?
  • Do I have a do not resuscitate (DNR) order that would be enacted after certain procedures or surgeries?
  • Have you chosen someone who can make your healthcare decisions when you can no longer make them yourself? Do they know your wishes?
  • If the healthcare system can no longer help with your condition, what would you like to happen? For example, would you like to be at home?

Personal Considerations

  • What are my beliefs about death? Do I need to make peace with any aspect of this process?
  • Are there any family or friends I want to talk to, and share love and gratitude with so they know how I feel about them?
  • Is there anyone I may have had difficulties with and want to make peace with before I die? Perhaps there is someone who may need my forgiveness or a broken relationship I want to repair.
  • Who would you like to leave your personal belongings to? Make notes as to who should have what so you can make sure people get what you want them to have.
  • If you are a single parent with young children, who will care for them after you are gone?
  • If you have pets, who will look after them?
  • Where are all your personal photos/videos? Are they on a computer? If so, does someone else know how to access them?
  • Have you labeled people in your photos? And where do these personal treasures go when you die? Will they go to children or other family? Having personal effects like photos well labeled is important so your family can identify others later on.

Funeral/Memorial/Celebration of Life Planning

  • What would you like to happen to your body after you die? Do you want to be embalmed? Buried? Cremated? Or do you want a green, or natural burial?
  • Do you have a preference for what casket you would like or how you would like to be buried? If you would like to be buried, where will it be?
  • Would you like a burial plot, headstone or grave marker? If cremated, where would you like your ashes scattered, or who would you like to keep them?
  • Do you want a ceremony of some kind? If so, what kind of ceremony would you like, and how would you like people to celebrate you?
  • Would you like flowers, and if so, what type? Or would you like people to donate to a charity you believe in instead?
  • Would you like someone to deliver a eulogy or have several people speak about your life? If so, speak to them ahead of time.
  • Should you pre-pay for funeral/burial/cremation services ahead of time? It can often be less expensive when done in advance.

Legal Considerations

  • Consider writing a will to make your wishes known and have them carried out legally.
  • Do you want someone to be your power of attorney?
  • Make a list of your assets so you can decide who you would like to have them.
  • Organize and store important documents and passwords so they can be easily found and accessed.
  • Talk to your loved ones about your wishes.

If you need a little inspiration, BJ Miller, a practicing hospice and palliative care physician, gives a moving TED talk about what really matters at the end of life.

Here are some resources to help guide you through the process and keep you organized as you go:

Final Thoughts

Although this all might seem a bit daunting initially, you can do what is comfortable and take your time. Choose which tasks are important to you, and work your way through them at your own pace.

Although some people are blessed to know that they are coming to the end of their lives and can prepare, many of us will not know in advance.

Thankfully, we can choose to do any of the things above at any time. Perhaps more important than anything is the way contemplating death can remind us of how precious life is and how important it is to cherish every moment and let the people in our lives know what they really mean to us.

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