As a family caregiver to both of my parents, I have learned the importance of communication. When you can openly discuss wishes, preferences, or future plans, it can take a burden off of you as a caregiver and allow your loved one to feel that they still have some control of their life, even when they need a little help.
I recently took my mother on a drive to a cemetery where some of her friends were buried. As we stood by the headstones and shared memories of those people, I felt I had an opening to ask about my mom’s wishes concerning her remains. I already knew she wished to be cremated but she surprised me with her answer. She knew exactly what she wanted done with her ashes but had never told me! I was so glad that I broached the subject because I now know precisely what she wants done.
Congratulations to those who have organized estate plans with all their final wishes spelled out in legal documents. Even if your home and holdings are small, this paperwork is invaluable to those who will need to deal with your affairs if you are no longer able to do so yourself.
Here is a list that might be prudent to consider when tidying your affairs:
- Last Will and Testament
- Power of Attorneys-General and Medical
- Digital Assets Access Authorization Form
- Advance Directive-Planning for Important Health Care Decisions
- HIPAA Privacy Authorization Form
- Information needed for a Death Certificate
- Declaration of Disposition of Last Remains
- Information and Instructions of business dealings
- Key Contact list of all professionals/doctors/institutions
- Key Contact list of all friends and organizations to notify
- Other personal wishes and private communications
- Obituary draft
It is a gift to your family and loved ones to get organized. Making an appointment to see a professional such as an estate attorney is the first step. Most of us avoid talking about topics we fear such as disability, dying and death. Our reluctance to have important talks about our futures can cause problems if a crisis occurs and no discussions of wishes had occurred before the incident. We may be alive but unconscious and those around us could be bereft with a multitude of decisions without a clear plan to follow. Often when we take the courageous step of allotting time to discuss and plan, our fear is replaced with peace of mind.
Often your doctor or loved one is waiting for you to bring up important matters and you in turn are waiting for them to initiate the talk. Most of us have an opinion. But that opinion needs to be discussed and recorded. If you are nervous about broaching a tough subject, it is best to take it slow and have many small conversations over time. Admitting that you are uncomfortable but willing to chat about important matters can break the ice.
Many people wish to age in place and stay in their homes until they die. Modifications may have to be made for safety and functionality as we age. We may have to arrange in-home care. Considering other scenarios and exploring a variety of opinions can be helpful to understand and define what is most important and financially viable. Often visiting a friend or relative in senior communities and facilities can be the first step in gathering information as well as pros and cons of different care and living options.
It is never too early to take measures to provide clarity and define wishes for times where you are at the mercy of others for your care. Often what we procrastinate discussing and doing can be causing our families or us anxiety. Have a series of conversations with family, friends, doctors, and professionals. Peruse your local senior guide and resources to see what is available in your community. Educate yourself early. Stay ahead of your needs because trying to catch up during a crisis is overwhelming. Consider the benefits of understanding your options and expressing your preferences. Your conscientious gift of planning has the potential to leave a loving legacy to your family after you are gone.
Lisa J. Shultz is the author of A Chance to Say Goodbye: Reflections on Losing a Parent. Find out more about Lisa at https://lisajshultz.com