Planning for the end of life is a process, not a one and done event. There are multiple areas that need to be thought out, perhaps discussed with a spouse, friend or relative, and documented.
Unless it is imminent, it is easier to prepare for a time when you may not be able to care for yourself. I recently read that 75% of folks over sixty-five are likely to need hospital or nursing home help for some period of time, perhaps a stay at a nursing facility to heal from a fall and/or surgery. Some subset of that group will need a longer-term solution if they can no longer live at home.
A big concern for adults with aging parents is who will step in to pay bills, take care of the house, and deal with investments if a parent is not able to do this any longer. Over half of those over eighty will have some loss of cognitive ability, and some will lose all ability to care for themselves.
That is why every adult over the age of 60 needs to clearly spell out the details of four areas in their life, for use by themselves while still very much in charge of their own lives, and for use by others when they need someone else to step in on their behalf:
1. A list of all advisors and financial institutions you deal with; what you have with that bank, advisor or other entity; who is the primary contact person, and their phone number; and where the documents are. This is not about sharing how you plan to distribute your assets when you die, but who to contact about an issue pertaining to that institution. This is your list. That could mean contacting your broker to set up a higher monthly transfer to your checking account, or the number of your estate planning attorney when you want to make an amendment to your trust, now that you have another grandchild.
2. Details of all your medical records, including all of your doctors, what their specialty is, when you last saw them, and their contact information; it should also include a list and dates of all procedures and immunizations, notes on when you are next due for one of these, and any other medical issues, and the name, dosage and frequency of every medication you take(if it is a generic, state the brand name as well, for clarity). I take this list with me every time I see a doctor, then, instead of filling out a long form of all previous issues and problems, I just write: see attached medical summary.
3. A complete listing of all services you utilize in the care and upkeep of your home. This would include your housekeeper, gardener, electrician, plumber, handyman, your garage and electronic gate, the pool service, and many others. You will be surprised once you start this, how many different people come to your home, even those that are infrequent, to deal with all types of problems, including just wanting to redo a bedroom. Then you also need the painter, the wallpaper guy, the person who will put in new shades, the cabinetmaker or contractor, etc. You see, there is always something needing attention and someone who will do it.
4. The final list is what your wishes are on your death. This takes a lot of thought, since most of us have not given it any up to this point. The reason this is so important is that every person deserves to have their life celebrated by those they love and touched in so many positive ways. But only you know what all those accomplishments are for which you are deservedly proud. What might those wishes encompass:
a. You need to decide whether you want to be buried or cremated, where you will be buried (or have your ashes scattered), what kind of service you want, where, and who will officiate and who will speak about you to remember collectively all that made you so special.
b. Do you want a reception after the service? Are there pictures you want to show of you from your childhood through your life, with family and friends, or doing things you loved in life?
These and other questions require time for you to arrive at what truly would make you happiest about your own celebration.
All four of these lists will be very important in the event that you, or someone you love, becomes incapacitated, and someone else takes over these roles of caring for you, your home, your financial assets, and ultimately, carrying out your wishes when you die. And the Gracious Exit workbook is all about making this process of getting organized as simple and personal as possible.