The Saturday Trust—The D-Word

Why end-of-life planning is not a priority

I am not afraid of death, I just don't want to be there when it happens.  --Woody Allen

Life Expectancy

One hundred years ago (1915), the average life expectancy for a women was 56.8 years. The average man could expect to die before his 53 birthday.  Fast forward to now (2015), and the average woman can expect to live until she is 81.4 years old.  Men on average can expect to die five years sooner, around the age of 76.4.  As a 57 year old woman, I can expect to live between 24 and 28 more years, based on current National Vital Statistics life expectancy data.

Fact #1:  We are all going to die.

Rebar cross & a cage for a pet cricket

If we all know that death is imminent, then why is there a resistance to discussing important end-of-life decisions?  Let's start with some of the casual dialogue I've heard over the past year...  
  • "You're waiting for me to die."  
  • "They want a piece of my will."  
  • "Let my kids worry about it!"  
  • "They don't need the money."  
Our longer lifetimes have produced an attitude of cynicism that obstructs what would have been a practical and necessary discussion in 1915 when people did not expect to live past the age of 60.  A productive career was a lot shorter, and the average person had less time to build any savings.  Death was closer and much more commonplace than it is now.  There was a greater connection between the generations with respect to passing on family wealth, and in most cases, end-of-life expectations were shared and dutifully followed with strict adherence.

We have more time to think about it now, but we don't because we don't have to.  Dying of typhoid fever in 1915 is a much scarier thought than dying in an assisted living facility in your eighties, but fear is not the main component here—denial is.  Better healthcare has stretched our lifetimes and created a sense of immortality.  We expect to die at some point, but it is now very far away.  

We can put off death, and we can put off talking about it.

As a result, we are not sharing how we want to die with the people who will be most likely to handle our end-of-life issues.  I've been on the receiving end of this equation for the past year, and my perspective is shaped by recent experience.  As a result, I understand that the tangible remnants of my life will continue for a short time after I'm gone, and I can either take charge of my end-of-life choices now or ignore the fact that a loved one will have to make them after I'm gone. 

How we die lives on in the minds of everybody who survives us.  ~Peter Saul, Senior ICU Specialist at John Hunter Hospital, Australia

Can We Talk?  

All of this makes sense until you encounter a brick wall of resistance from someone who does not want to face the fact that we're all going to die some day.  

Fact #2:  Failing to plan for future responsibilities can make a 
bad situation worse.

When I think of end-of-life planning, I like to think of it as a getting-younger issue rather than a getting-older issue.  I can expect to live until I'm 82, so I've got another quarter century of life ahead of me.  But, demographically speaking, I'm in the over-55 category, which means that all kinds of shit can rain down on me at any time.  

As a group, we Boomers are entering into shall we say, senior categories, at traditionally the right ages, but with more life expectancy.  Relatively speaking, 50 is the new 30, 60 is the new 40, and 70 is the new 50.  The number of households caring for an elderly family member is expected to double in the next 25 years, which means that the need for caregiving will be as common as the need for child care.  LIke it or not, our parents are getting older, and so are we.  End-of-life planning is not just an idle preoccupation to be dealt with later on.  

So, how do we open up this dialogue with a family member who doesn't want to talk about it?  

AARP 5-Step Caregiving Planner 

I love this step-by-step guide by AARP on how to develop a caregiving plan with your family.  It's not about discussing a living trust, a Health Power of Attorney &/or a Last Will and Testament.  These issues will emerge later in the conversation.  Furthermore, if you start with the gritty legal issues first, you are likely to encounter resistance, and the whole dialogue will shut down.  A caregiving plan is a gentler place to start.  

Click HERE for the AARP Caregiving Family Planner pdf    

The AARP planner breaks it down into 5 steps.    
  • Step 1:  Prepare to Talk — 10 Tips on How to Approach a Difficult Topic
  • Step 2:  Form Your Team — Who Will Be Part of the Conversation
  • Step 3:  Assess Needs — Great Checklists!
  • Step 4:  Make a Plan — What To Do & Assigning Roles
  • Step 5:  Take Action —  Putting the Plan into Action

The conversation about caregiving is more than one exchange. 
It is a discussion that takes place over time.  


Final Wishes 

Finally, I'd like to add my own tip for end-of-life planning based on my experience with my dad.  

Share your memorial plans.  

My brother's marker in Searchlight

Most people have pretty strong views regarding their own burials, funeral plans and obits.  Don't be afraid to share this information with your closest friends and family.  Tell the people who are most likely to be involved in your end-of-life plan.  Put your instructions in writing, and file it with your HPOA (Health Power of Attorney) and your trust &/or will.  

This will reduce conflict among extended family members, friends and acquaintances.  Some people feel a very strong need to have a memorial or a Celebration of Life in order to find closure when someone passes away.  So, make sure that your wishes are crystal clear and share them before you die.  

Happy Planning!

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