Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Where There is a Will There is a Way - Why Preparing for Death is So Important

By a raise of hands I want to see how many of you have the following documents: a trust and/or will; durable powers of attorney; living will; and medical powers of attorney.

Wait, did I just see a few of you slip down in your chairs and pretend to disappear? Now, now, don't do that. Millions of other people couldn't raise their hands either.

Why is it we put off taking care of these documents?  Are we afraid to face our mortality or are we just distracted by a busy world?  Are we still immortal and invincible?  Or are we just not ready to think about it and make decisions?

Before I go any farther I want to point out I am not a lawyer and I am not trying to give you legal advice.  I just want to talk about why it is we don't take care of this stuff.  I think most of us will agree it is very important.  Intellectually we know we will need it at some point.  But it can be unpleasant to think about our own demise, which is what this is all about.

I knew a lawyer once who told me she went into estate planning because it was one of the few areas of law which was proactive, not reactive.  She said she enjoyed helping people plan to avoid trouble instead of helping people get out of trouble.  Interesting thought.

Why do we go to the effort of having these documents made? Do we enjoy spending our time and money with lawyers?  Probably not.  I think it comes down to how much we care about the people in our family and if we want to shelter them from some hard decisions down the road.

I think we all know at least one person who died without leaving a will or trust.  The details involved in resolving that are staggering.  If the person was single/divorced or widowed the details can get even crazier.  The government likes a clear path of ownership.  Think about it, when you buy a car there is a title which shows your name on it.  The seller signs it over to you and we all agree you own it.  So what if the seller just handed you the keys and said, "take care of this for me?"  The car would not be yours in the eyes of the law.

So why do we tell our family/kids "take care of that for me?"  Unless we have legal proof we gave them our belongings they really don't own anything.  Well, at least they don't own them until there is a court process.

What about your feelings on death and end of life treatment?  What do you want?  I can't imagine putting my family through the gut wrenching decision of pulling the plug if I hadn't told them what I wanted ahead of time.  That is a burden I do not want them to carry.  I know a family that had to make that choice.  It was very hard and life altering.

I'm realizing this blog sounds very depressing.  That was not my intent.  Many people associate death, dying and illness as a uncontrollable part of life.  They feel a great helplessness surrounding the subject and avoid it, thinking there is nothing they can do.

There is something you can do.  While it is true you cannot avoid death, you can plan for it.  Spend some time and figure out what you want.  Determine who gets the cat, the china and great Aunt Suzie's prize vase.  Think about how you want to transfer property.  Select an executor to handle the process.  Research your medical options and find out what feels right to you.  Make the decisions your family won't want to make.  Then go write it all down.  Make it official.

When a loved one is gone the family wants to grieve.  They do not want to second guess the person's intentions.  Give them the gift of preparation.  Give yourself the peace that comes from taking care of it.  Face your fear of death.  Address the discomfort you feel about planning for a time when you are gone.  Make the decision to think it all through.

You can do it and your family will thank you for it.

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