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Judith Johnson

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End-of-Life Planning: Why It's Such a Smart Thing to Do

Posted: 02/28/11 04:54 AM ET

The fact that most people do not even know what end-of-life planning involves is both sad and the source of an enormous amount of stress and distress for many families. We have all heard horror stories about families fighting over a loved one's will or struggling over what medical treatment choices to make on their behalf when they are unable to communicate their wishes. These guessing games, power struggles and the heartache involved could all be avoided or drastically reduced if we would only face the reality of human mortality and document our preferences for the end of our lives in advance of need.

Talking about dying and death is a huge social taboo. It is almost as though we collectively put our hands over our eyes like children who innocently think, "if I don't see it or look at it, it doesn't exist." But, it does. So, let's take a look at the truth of this matter.

The key to effective end-of-life planning is not to race through filling out legal documents, but rather to take our time to thoughtfully clarify our thoughts, attitudes, beliefs and feelings about dying and death first. It is important to understand that our mental and emotional posture serves as the foundation for how we live our lives, which includes how we live our dying.

We need to take the time to understand the full scope of what is involved in putting our affairs in order and seek out solid information on each topical area. Then we can dive in and embrace the process. While perhaps daunting or a bit scary at first, many are surprised to find this a very interesting, self-revealing and liberating process.

The Five Areas of End-of-Life Preparation

  1. Your Values and Beliefs: Clarifying your beliefs about aging, incapacitation, dying and death serve as the foundation for all the decisions you will make regarding your own end-of-life process.
  2. Advance Healthcare Planning: Documenting your healthcare wishes. This involves a Healthcare Proxy (a legal form used to appoint an agent and an alternate to speak on your behalf in the event that you are unable to speak for yourself regarding your medical care) and a Living Will (a clear expression of your healthcare treatment preferences which is what any court would be looking for in the event of a dispute).
  3. Advance Financial Planning: Making decisions about your financial and material wealth that will provide for your own care and comfort through the end of your life as well as the disbursement of your possessions after your death (accomplished through a legal will or trust).
  4. Your Ethical Will: Documenting the story of your life from your point of view as a gift of love and understanding for those you will leave behind.
  5. Preferences for Your Deathday and End-of-Life Rituals: Providing instructions for your loved ones about your beliefs and desires regarding such things as whether you want to be cremated or buried, honored with a funeral and/or a memorial service, and whether you are a body, tissue or organ donor.

End-of-life planning is not about secretly hiding away documents that express your wishes, but rather using these documents as the basis for important conversations with your loved ones, doctor(s) and other advisors and caregivers so that your voice is heard and that any objections or concerns can be addressed in advance. This takes courage, yet it is the most loving thing we can do to prevent the heartache and horror stories that will otherwise be caused by not speaking up on our own behalf.

Understanding the importance of end-of-life planning doesn't seem to be enough. So, let's debunk some of the most common excuses we make for not putting our affairs in order:

Top Seven Excuses for Not Putting Our Affairs in Order

  1. Irrational Fears: "If I do the paperwork, then I will die soon and if I don't do it, I won't die because I won't be ready yet." -- As with all fears, they are only as powerful as the energy we feed into them.
  2. I Don't Have Time: "I'll do it later. I'm too busy. Or, I'm young, and therefore I have plenty of time." -- How much time you have is not entirely in your control.
  3. It's Too Overwhelming: "It's all too much. I don't know where to start." -- The risk involved in not having your affairs in order is just too high!
  4. I Don't Like to Think About Things Like This: "It's too creepy to deal with this stuff." -- This is not something you do because you like it. You do it as an act of love for yourself and those you will leave behind.
  5. It's Too Expensive: "I can't afford the legal expense right now." -- It will be far more expensive financially, legally and emotionally for you and for your loved ones if you don't get this done, plus you forfeit the right to direct your own affairs.
  6. Confidentially: "I don't want anyone knowing too much about my personal affairs." -- You don't want them knowing too little either. Remember, you have complete control over who you choose to provide what information.
  7. Fear of Dying and Death: "I'm afraid." -- Death is not a mistake. It is a normal part of living for all sentient beings on Planet Earth. The better we are able to accept our mortality, the more fully we are able to embrace and enjoy our life.

If you are not convinced yet to put your affairs in order, consider the payoffs.

The Top Five Payoffs for Putting Your Affairs in Order Now!

  1. Protecting Your Right to Make Your Own Decisions: Having decisions made from your point of view -- not someone else's.
  2. Demonstrating Your Love for Those You Hold Dear: The more you do in advance of need, the less your loved ones will have to do. Preparation eliminates the potential for family disputes over what to do.
  3. Minimizing Professional Fees: Good information gathering and organization can save thousands of dollars in professional fees to pay someone to second guess what only we know about our affairs.
  4. Dealing with the Reality That Death is an Unscheduled Event: Each day that goes by without getting your affairs in order increases the probability that you will not have them done when the need arises.
  5. Claiming Your Freedom From Guilt, Fear, Shame, Stress and Avoidance: Imagine how much energy you have expended in avoiding taking care of this and how wonderful it will be to free up this energy, stop its ongoing drainage and have the satisfaction of having your affairs in order.

I rest my case!

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