Some conversations are difficult to have whether in our teens, as young adults or as we age and become mature adults (aka as “Seniors!”) Whether it’s “the talk” about the birds and the bees, how to protect our young adults from harm as they venture out into the world, whether to have a family or not, these conversations can be heavy and we often find ourselves at a loss for words. That said, it’s always been a bit of mystery to me why it is that we spend so much of our lives planning for special events like vacations, weddings or the arrival of a child and yet, when it comes to making plans for how we wish to spend our final years; including our care, honouring our memories or dispersing our treasured belongings, we often make no plans at all. It’s the last taboo, the one thing no one ever wants to talk about but should – end of life planning including: wills, estate planning, financial plans, inheritances and funeral planning.
You Can Do Difficult Things
If we include bold subtitles in this article, drawing your eye to important information you should discuss with your family and/or caregiver team, you may be tempted to skip over the topics that frighten or possibly depress you to think about. Please don’t! This is your gentle reminder that with age comes the possibility of having to plan for difficult decisions. You’ve done it before and we know you can do it again. What we also know is that for your own peace of mind and that of your loved ones, these conversations are better to have now than during a time of crisis. As an older adult, chances are you’ve already dealt with the loss of a loved one, the sale of the family home, a division of assets through divorce, or a myriad of other difficult decisions. We know you can do this too!
- Let’s start with an easy one! Planning for the future is hopefully something you’ve already been doing for quite some time. Financial planning as an older adult isn’t just about what you are leaving behind but how you wish to live, during your “golden years.”
- It’s important to take into consideration – even if you are only just now entering “the 50+” years – the lifestyle you hope to maintain throughout your lifetime.
- Banks, credit unions, financial planners, accountants, these are all folks who can help you live life to the fullest now AND plan for your own future as well as to plan for any monetary gifts you may wish to leave after you are gone.
- Consider such decisions as whether to downsize from the family home and take those assets to fund your retirement travel plans or future living accommodations and determine what kind of lifestyle you would prefer?
- Does it include luxury senior living where all your meals are catered and socializing with friends with planned outings and events, or are you happy to live in a smaller apartment or condo and travel frequently instead?
- Financial planning now to fund a retirement you dream of is an important first step.
End of Life Care
- This one is a little harder and the Covid 19 pandemic has brought this aspect of “the talk” to the forefront like no other time in history. Families were forced into making heart-wrenching decisions for loved ones in a very short amount of time.
- Talk now with your family about your final wishes should you have an accident, sudden illness or particularly, if you have been diagnosed with a life-altering or terminal illness.
- You’ll need to state your wishes clearly and unequivocally – using appropriate legal services in your province or state – to ensure that your decisions are honoured even in the midst of family grief.
- Have a Power of Attorney designated and/or a Substitute Decision Maker, so that if you are unable to articulate your wishes they can do it for you. If that person is a spouse and they predecease you, one of the first things you should do is have your documents updated and have a new conversation with your new POA or SDM to be sure your wishes are clear.
- A POA is a legal authorization empowering a designated individual to act for another. It could be related to signing documents, for legal matters, property transactions or financial matters and is occasionally also used for medical decision making in the event a person becomes incapacitated. It can be general (applicable in all matters) or limited (only applicable under clearly defined parameters.)
- An SDM is similar to the power of attorney but specifically relates to making decisions (usually health care related) when an individual is not capable of making those decisions for themselves. This could be as a result of mental incapacity due to mental health issues or diseases like Alzheimer’s or because they are unconscious as a result of accident or injury. An SDM is therefore sometimes only a temporary measure. Jurisdictions differ so it’s important to get advice based on the state or province you are living in – or plan to live in during the retirement years!
- If you have spent a lifetime accumulating assets, working hard and collecting treasured memories along the way, doesn’t it make sense to formally and properly dispose of them after you’re gone?
- A will ensures that your final gift to your family is the ease with which they can honour your final requests.
- A will isn’t really about you anymore it’s about the legacy you are leaving behind and whether that’s small, medium or large – planning ahead limits any potential conflict.
- We know of some folks who have invited loved ones to a special lunch or dinner during which they are encouraged to choose a cherished piece of china, select a long-admired piece of art or other items that have personal meaning, while their family member is still alive. It’s an opportunity to share memories with that person, including why the piece they are choosing is so important to them.
- If you anticipate some potential discord around the disposal of your estate, having such items clearly listed and designated will ensure treasured items go to the people you know will love them best.
- Part of this process will also require you to designate an Executor of your estate and you should think carefully about whom this person is and make sure they understand the scope and importance of their role. If any family members named in your will are underage you must also give some careful consideration to guardianship and/or holding money in trust until they reach a designated age.
This is probably the hardest one of all – so if you are still reading – good for you! No one likes to think about a future they are no longer a part of but you may also think of this as your final opportunity to plan the final “celebration” YOUR way! Funerals have changed significantly over the years and it’s safe to say there is no “right” way to grieve. As a lifelong environmentalist you may wish to keep things simple and have your ashes buried at the base of a tree providing fertile ground for future generations. If religious symbolism is important to you but no one else in your family, make sure your wishes clearly state that you wish to be honoured in the faith tradition that you found meaningful throughout your life. Alternatively, if you are the lone exception to an otherwise religious family, making your own funeral arrangements ensures you will be treated with respect to your wishes, not theirs. Just be mindful of how some people may express grief: we recently saw a clip on social media of an Irish man who’d requested a recording be played as his casket was lowered into the ground, it consisted of him “banging” on the casket and exhorting loudly to be let out. This may have been his attempt at humour but we’re pretty certain not all the bereaved found it funny.
There, that’s the hard reading over and done with. Make this process easier for your friends and family by initiating the conversation with them. Trust us when we share that talking about your future – and final – wishes, is something that everyone will appreciate the value of when your time comes. It might be difficult, but it’s a darn sight easier than explaining the birds and the bees to an embarrassed 13 year old teenager who’s rolling their eyes and already thinks they know EVERYTHING! End of life planning and care is the one thing no one is talking about but should be. Perhaps even over a glass of wine or a family lunch. Now that’s something you’d never do with a teen!