Have you considered what your ideal way of transitioning out of this life will be? I have heard some interesting ideas about how people want to leave this life after considering the experiences of their loved ones. Yet, most of us seem to do little to plan for that dream. We plan for dream houses, dream vacations, babies, college, retirement, wedding and funeral expenses, the big events of life. But most of life is in between these big events. Let’s take a moment and think about that season of life where our health and stamina are declining.
Before you say that does not apply to me consider that in 2020 average life expectancy for the United States was 77 years old, opens a new window and there were 31.1 million 65 to 74 year olds, 15.5 million 75-84 year olds, and 6.5 million 85+ year olds which together was 16% of the total population, opens a new window. And according to LongTermCare.gov,, opens a new window “At some point in our lives, about 60 percent of us will need assistance with things like getting dressed, driving to appointments, or making meals, opens a new window.” So, there is a good chance if it doesn’t apply to you, it does apply to your parents, spouse, or a good number of the people around you. This does not mean just at the end of your life either, short-term health issues can occur at any time in our lives. But the likelihood of these events is higher as we age.
Rather than being blindsided with all the things that need to happen when you are ill, exhausted, or cognitively impaired, I encourage you to consider these suggestions long before you are faced with this situation for yourself or your loved ones.
- Declutter. The hardest part of this is letting go of mementos that we treasure, well and actual cleaning. These treasures become a curse when you must manage them when you are ill, or worse, other people must go through and decide for you what to keep and what to toss. Why not share your treasures with someone else or an organization who will treasure them also? If you are not ready to part with those items just yet, decide who you think would like those treasures, discuss your future gift with them, and record this plan with your records.
- Decide who will advocate for and represent you in case you physically or cognitively are not able to do so. Discuss with them if they are willing and able to take on this role. Plan on revisiting this annually or as needs change. They should know who your primary care physician (PCP) is and their contact information. You should also inform your PCP who your advocate is and what your medical desires are.
- Organize and gather your legal and financial records together into one easily accessible but secure location. Prepare copies for beneficiaries, future caretakers, etc. It will simplify and speed up your health care if your representative can just hand legal health documents to care institutions. Notify your designated representative where these documents are kept. This should include every open account, asset, insurance policy and cent. A dated spreadsheet list with account numbers and addresses would be appreciated by anyone having to assist you. Part of this organization includes keeping beneficiary contact information up to date on all of your accounts and documents. More to come on this topic.
- Simplify your assets. If number 3 struck terror in your heart, your financial life is too complicated. You may or may not be wealthy, but if your assets are too complicated the state may eventually be the beneficiary of those assets because your representative can’t find or access them for you.
- Take care of your health. Addressing issues early saves time, money, and grief. Letting issues grow and worsen leads to compounded struggles when large events occur. On that vein, keep up with your exercise! Our abilities change over time but make full use of that body as much as possible. Strength and flexibility never go out of style.
Whew! That’s already a lot to do, which is why we are talking about this! Methodically planning and preparing beforehand will give you peace of mind when tough times hit. Having done all the prep work beforehand, the focus can be on you or your loved one rather than on a litany of tasks to just have basic needs met.
The following is a list of legal documents to have ready in your secure location:
- Advanced Care Directive
- Backup plans if your first options are not available
- Contact list
- DNR (do-not-resuscitate order - explain what you want as this can be confusing)
- Financial power of attorney
- Long-term care insurance policy
- Medical Power of Attorney (this is different than the Power of Attorney)
- Organ donation (do you want to do this, where you have registered, what do you want to donate, and who/what organization you want to donate to)
- Power of Attorney
- Prepaid funeral documents
- What assisted living, short- or long-term care facility you want to live in if needed, or what company do you want to provide home health care, if possible
- Will (updated every 5 years)
As you can see there are many legal requirements and hiring a lawyer to make sure your affairs are in order is recommended. Understanding what you are wanting before meeting with the lawyer will save you some time, but budget for legal fees costing several thousand dollars. Do not put this off, working with a lawyer before a crisis or diminished capacity occurs will improve your experiences, and allow you to have the most control over the situations that may be required.
Another item to plan for is the possibility of running out of funds and insurance. According to Genworth Financial, Inc. the median cost of a private room in a nursing facility in our area cost over $100,000 a year in 2021, opens a new window. If care is needed for several years, you may need the assistance of a lawyer to help with preparing Medicaid paperwork, when your funds run out. This is mentioned as an item to budget for before spending all your money. Long-term care insurance can help with these types of expenses, however many plans do not cover more than 2 to 5 years of care, opens a new window, and some are less than that.
Best of luck planning out this life season! I hope your final season goes according to your dreams. Here are a few library resources to further assist you.
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