When you’re young, literally the last thing you’d want to think about is your own death. Why bother? It’s so, so far away. Better to focus on a career, trying to get your own place --- or saving up for your toddler's college education.
But people end up stretching out this mental honeymoon, procrastinating on the simplest planning points, and eventually avoiding some really important decisions this way. Sadly, this ends up making things difficult for their families and themselves later on.
If pressed to think about your final days, you'd probably imagine spending them at home, like most people. But the CDC reports that in reality, 70% of people actually die in a hospital, nursing home, or other care facility. The clearest reason for this is that most people simply don't plan ahead for their final days and don't make their wishes known in advance.
It seems counter-intuitive, but the best time to plan your exit is when you're young, or even young-ish. Youth gives you the luxury of time to think about your will, to pay off your debts, and to decide what kind of medical care you'd like to get when you're old. Despite how easy and advisable it is to get this planning out of the way early on, statistics show that only about 20% to 30% of Americans write down their healthcare wishes legally or otherwise.
Regardless of your age, the younger you plan things out, the better they will go near the end. Think of this as your chance to make sure you don't fizzle out, but that you exit on a — mic drop. Planning ahead for your last days on Earth is all about keeping it real. So keep reading to find out how to get these grave planning decisions right. (See what I did there? My puns are deadly.)
1. The Conversation
So, it probably won't be fun, but it's best to get this out of the way. You need to have a conversation with your loved ones – your spouse, maybe a sibling, or your best friend – about what you want to happen when your time comes. Do you want a big funeral or a small celebration of life? Burial or cremation? What financial investments do you have? What about real estate? What do you want to happen with any money you've saved? Do you have a kid or two that you don't want fighting over an inheritance? Think about this and talk about this with your most trusted people.
2. Make Sure Your Will Is Up-to-Date and Review All Titles and Beneficiaries
Now, before you can inform your loved ones who gets what, or where certain money or investments go, you'll need to review all titles and beneficiaries. This is an important step as there are some assets that can be passed directly to your designated people without having to go through probate (the official proving of a will). According to AllLaw.com, these include retirement accounts like IRAs and 401(k)s for which you already named a beneficiary; life insurance proceeds; or property held in a living trust.
3. Take Care of Your Debts
Not until you've planned a funeral for someone can you appreciate how awful and expensive an experience it is. Sometimes people leave debts that their loved ones end up having to cover, too. Doesn't that sound awful?
With a little planning, you can take the burden off your family's shoulders and avoid leaving them with a pile of debt to contend with while they are greaving. This is why paying off all your outstanding debt is crucial. Or, at least, making sure to keep debt to a minimumand knowing that you have enough money to pay them off through your savings, insurance, or the sale of other assets.
4. Keep Track of All Important Passwords and Documents
Make life easier on your family and yourself by keeping track of where all your important passwords and documents are. Not only does this include your will, but your paperwork for insurance and homeownership, and your passwords to online banking, credit cards, emails. This can be done by simply designating a drawer in your home for all of your important documents. Some people prefer putting these documents in a safe, which is an even better idea- but just make sure that someone else knows the combination!
5. Funeral Planning
As morbid as it may seem, you probably knew this was coming.
When preparing for the end of your life, you should have some basic ideas of a funeral plan laid out. This doesn't mean you have to sort out every little detail. Take the time to sort out things like the kind of funeral/celebration of life you want, where you want to be buried, if you want to be buried, what coffin you prefer, or deciding what you want to happen to your ashes. All of these details will provide your family with a sense of relief and take the major burden of decisionmaking off their shoulders. Not only will they have less to sort out and plan, but they will be at ease knowing everything is happening the way you want.
6. Decide How Long You Want to Hold On
This can be a tough one to think about. But without you stating how you feel about this, you are leaving either your partner, your child, or your power of attorney in a really tough spot. When planning for the end, you should make it clear how you feel about being hooked up to a ventilator, how long you are okay with being left on it, and in what situation you would want to be taken off. This incredibly important detail can be difficult for you to plan, and it's often skipped over. But when this decision is not made ahead of time, it can cause rifts between family members left to make the decision on their own. Just avoid all this and set down on paper what would work for you.
Now, don't get down thinking about all this! You're reading this so far in advance of your final days that you have very little to worry about. But the reality is that this most enjoyable of topics is also unavoidable. The earlier you begin thinking about your money, your debts, your will, and how you'd like to leave this planet, the better off you'll be. And so will the people you care about the most.