Handling Your Own End-of-Life Planning

Each of us will eventually have to confront death. My late husband, Tom, died in my arms several years ago. Less than two months later, my 84-year-old mother passed with me at her side. While I deeply miss their physical presence, I still have their love and spirits with me today. I will always be grateful for the support of friends, family, and colleagues during that difficult time.

Grieving the loss of a loved one is never easy, and many of you may have experienced similar heartache. Amidst my sorrow, I managed the estate settlement of both Tom and my mom. Although this task was straightforward, it was time-consuming. I’m thankful they both had organized their end-of-life affairs. That made closing out their estates easier for me.

Thoughtful End-of-Life Planning

Consider end-of-life planning as the final gift you can offer your loved ones. Proper planning alleviates additional stress and confusion for those left behind, preventing unnecessary pain, guilt, and regret. My late husband and mother ensured their financial and other matters were in order, thanks to wise pre-planning with their financial advisor. (Spoiler alert: I was that professional!)

Individual retirement accounts (IRAs) and other retirement investments listed the correct beneficiaries, their wills were current, and life insurance policies were up-to-date. Non-retirement accounts were designated with “payable on death” or “transferable on death” status to avoid probate. They also had updated their living wills, leaving no doubt about end-of-life wishes.

Despite their comprehensive planning, numerous small yet significant decisions had to be made. For instance, my mother wanted her estate divided equally among her three children. However, this broad directive left room for interpretation regarding sentimental items. My brothers and I shared these mementos amicably, donating much of her household items to charity. I kept some pieces for sentimental reasons, like a small, well-worn stool with chipped green paint made by my great-grandfather for me as a toddler.

Tying Up Loose Ends

Reflecting on my experiences and those of others I’ve assisted, I’ve included a few key steps below to help with your own end-of-life planning to ensure a smoother transition for your loved ones.

  • Check Your Beneficiary Statements

Retirement accounts, insurance policies, and annuities bypass probate, directly going to named beneficiaries. They are not directed by your legal will unless you neglect to name beneficiaries. Verify that your beneficiary listings are current and reflect your wishes. Consider including your favorite nonprofits as partial beneficiaries. Keep a list of the names and addresses of these beneficiaries with your estate documents.

  • Revisit Your Will

Locate your will and ensure others know where it’s stored—no hide-and-seek games, please. Review it to confirm it aligns with your current wishes. If you don’t understand any part of it, consult your lawyer. This advice also applies to your revocable living trust if you have one.

  • Keep a List of Your Financial Assets and Where These are Held

Along this same line, identify your passwords and PINs for accounts you monitor online.

Other End-of-Life Planning

  • Put Advanced Health Care Directives in Place

Ensure you have a living will and, if appropriate, a Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) order prepared by your physician. These documents clarify your healthcare preferences when you cannot communicate them yourself. Also name a health care advocate to act on your behalf.

  • Identify Who Gets Special Keepsakes

If you have particular items you want to go to specific people, document this. This doesn’t have to be complicated but should be explicit. Consider a “separate letter of instruction” for personal items, and if you anticipate disputes, include these instructions in your will. The workbook Who Gets Grandma’s Yellow Pie Plate? by the University of Minnesota Extension Service, can be a helpful resource.

  • Share Your Preferences for a Traditional Funeral, Memorial Service, or Celebration of Life Event

Let your family or close friends know what you want for your funeral or memorial service. As my late husband was a retired pastor, he wanted to write much of his memorial service and obituary before he passed, you can simply specify whether you want to be cremated or buried. Or maybe you want a green burial or another alternative. What are your favorite spiritual verses, poems, or songs? Who should be notified? How do you want to be remembered? Planning in advance eases the burden on those you care for during their time of grief.

Plan to Express Love

  • Express Your Love

We are all destined to die someday. Don’t wait until it’s too late to communicate your love, apologize, or mend relationships. Consider sharing your values, hopes, dreams, memories, and more with family and friends in a lasting legacy of love that you write. Here’s a free LifePrint Legacy eBooklet that may assist you in crafting your letter.

A Final Note on Handling Your Own End-of-Life Planning

When your time comes to leave this earthly life behind, your thoughtful actions before death can give your loved ones a greater sense of comfort. Handling your own end-of-life planning will give family and close friends a final gift of comfort and clarity. You can enjoy peace of mind now, and they will have greater serenity in the future because of what you do today. As you go about this important and loving work, I send blessings to you.

Check out Kathleen’s book,  Moving Forward on Your Own: A Financial Guidebook for Widows  

Learn more at https://www.kathleenrehl.com

Kathleen Rehl

ABOUT KATHLEEN M. REHL, PH.D., CFP®, CeFT® Emeritus Kathleen owned Rehl Financial Advisors for 18 years before retiring to an active six-year encore career empowering widows through her speaking, writing, and research. As a financial planner, she specialized in working with widows and philanthropic planning. After her husband died, Kathleen authored the award-winning Moving Forward on Your Own: A Financial Guidebook for Widows. Now in her 78th year, she’s happily “reFired.” That’s not traditional retirement, as she inspires legacy and longevity planning while continuing to empower widows financially. Recently returning to her love of teaching, she’s Adjunct Faculty at The American College of Financial Services, in their Chartered Advisor in Philanthropy® program. Years ago, Kathleen served as a gift planning officer and, before that, a university professor. Her work has been featured in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Next Avenue, Kiplinger’s, CNBC, Nerd’s Eye View, Humble Dollar, Sixty & Me, AgeBuzz, Rethinking65, and others. Numerous podcasts and webcasts have introduced their followers to Kathleen and her work. She’s frequently invited to speak at professional conferences as well as nonprofit organizations. Kathleen also mentors new widows, professionals working with widows, and charitably inclined individuals. As a zesty 4th quarter gal practicing positive aging, Kathleen gratefully continues to create and contribute . . . joyfully using her skills and experiences to encourage others to live their best life. She can be reached at KathleenRehl@gmail.com. Her website is https://www.kathleenrehl.com.

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