Powell: Here's how to plan a peaceful end of life

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If you think the process of saving for retirement is the same for men and women, think again. BNY Mellon Investment Management’s co-head of global distribution Kim Mustin, said there’s a retirement savings gap between men and women.
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In his book Being Mortal, surgeon, writer and public health researcher Atul Gawande notes that few people have discussed their end-of-life wishes with family members or other caregivers.  

The reasons are many, but the consequences are the same: many people die without expressing the kind of care they would want to receive if they were incapacitated with injury or illness.

To be sure, it can be hard to discuss death. Yet, personal, medical and financial conversations can help make the end-of-life time as peaceful as possible.   

Here’s how to approach this topic.

Think about those final years now

Discuss wishes with family and friends well before death nears, says Kathy Cerminara, a law professor at Nova Southeastern University who specializes in end-of-life decision-making.

 “No one wants to think about it,” she says, but it’s important to get this conversation going early, and to have it often. 

It’s much easier to have these discussions before any dire situations arise, says David Henderson, a principal of financial planning firm The Henderson Group and former board member of the Hospice of the Shenandoah.  

“Folks who are counting months, or even weeks, recognize the need” for such a discussion, he says, yet, “they or their spouses and close family are often in denial and don’t want to broach the subject.” 

Use current happenings to drive discussion  

Even if you are ready to talk about it death, some loved ones may not be open to the conversation, Cerminara says. Her suggestion on how to handle that: capitalize on the moment when death comes up on a movie or newscast, or when the conversation turns to someone who has recently died.  

Seize that moment “to ask family or friends if they would be willing to participate in a later group discussion about the topic,” she says. 

This gives loved ones advanced notice that you would like to talk about the subject in-depth, she says. 

“That way, they can wrap their minds around the concept and can prepare if they feel they need to,” says Cerminara. “Then follow up by scheduling a family meeting or friends’ gathering for a discussion of your values, wishes and goals.” 

Karl Pillemer, author 30 Lessons for Living and director of the Cornell Legacy Project, which collects wisdom from elders, also suggests capitalizing on any mentions of death to get the conversation started.

He says to say something like, “my friend Alice was in an accident and her family had to make some hard decisions. I’ve been thinking about what I would like to have happen. Have you ever thought about this?”   

Pillemer also suggests bringing up death as part of a general conversation. For example, he says to mention articles about people who decide not to have treatment when they are terminally ill, and then to ask others what they think of that decision.

More: How to prepare financially for being a widow/widower

More: Estate planning: How to ‘death clean’ your finances

Get the help of financial professionals 

Estate planning attorneys and financial professionals can help prepare the documents that are needed to make sure end-of-life instructions are carried out. Those documents might include ethical wills, a pre-written obituary, a living will, a health care proxy, information on powers of attorney and advance directives. 

Non-profit consumer advocacy group Medicare Rights Center provides detailed descriptionsof such financial documents via its Medicare Interactive website

“Many people assume that their family members would automatically be able to make decisions about medical treatments if they were to become incapacitated. However, rules vary greatly from state to state,” Medicare Rights Center says via that site. “In some cases, decisions are left up to the health care providers and institutions in charge of your care unless you have appointed someone as your legal representative.”

More: Got a will? Here are 11 more end-of-life documents you may need

Also employ medical assistance 

Schedule time to discuss end-of-life wishes with medical professionals, says Cerminara.

 “Yes, they are busy,” she says. “But billing codes are available for them to use in conversations about advance directives and end-of-life wishes.”

Some health professions may be uncomfortable with this topic, she says, but in general, those in this field are becoming more aware about how important it is to engage in such discussions.

“I’m optimistic that more and more such professionals are going to become accustomed to engaging in them,” Cerminara says.

Resources:
–    The Conversation Project https://theconversationproject.org/
–    The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO)
–    The American Bar Association Commission on Legal Problems of the Elderly 

Robert Powell is the editor of TheStreet’s Retirement Daily and contributes regularly to USA TODAY. Got questions about money? Email Bob at rpowell@allthingsretirement.com. The views and opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of USA TODAY.

 

 

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