How to (Live and) Die in America



Let’s face it – death is not a fun topic for anyone to discuss, consider, or analyze. (Unless you’re an estate planner with a morbid sense of humor. I’m sure I don’t know anyone like that.) The topic brings up an array of unpleasant emotions, including fear, our cultural and historical attitudes, and just a general feeling of unease. All of this normal. And yet, death is inevitable (barring, of course, any major advancements into the Walt Disney dream of cryogenics and coming back to life as a thawed out talking head attached to a new body/robot). We will all die. And the lack of preparation for our deaths impacts our families, our health, and our legacies.

Often we find that families are afraid to broach the idea of estate planning with their elderly relatives due to this extreme unease on the topic of death. The most important step is to talk about it. Some people find that it’s easier to discuss death with non-family members. Serious discussions about death are now being shown in the media and there are even death cafes that hold meetings in local communities to talk about these issues as the population ages and people realize that discussion can be healing and that preparedness is key. If you want to talk with your relatives about death, estate planning, and legacies, it’s probably best not to do it at the Thanksgiving table. Pick a time and place that is not fraught with stress (so that rules out all holiday gatherings basically).

By no means do we need to be obsessed with our inevitable demise to the point where we stop enjoying our lives. But planning, discussion, and letting your wishes be known to your family helps to alleviate uncertainty for your loved ones and puts you in the driver’s seat as you approach the end. No one can plan for every eventuality.

But having a valid, comprehensive, detailed estate plan in place will allow you and your loved ones (whether they are the family you are born into or the family you create for yourself) to focus on the important things in life – shared memories, holiday gatherings, vacations, and of course, finishing the latest season of Succession.

Educate yourself on the documents you need – a living trust, a will, a valid Power of Attorney, and an Advanced Health Care Directive.

Final disposition instructions can be very helpful to your family. Tastes and preferences for funerals and memorials are changing as well.  Make your wishes crystal clear. Ask the questions. Put your wishes in writing. And then go and live a happy life knowing that you and your family are prepared for the end (and finish bingeing your favorite tv show too!).

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