Talking about death is an important first step in end of life planning. When the time comes, it can make all the difference if you understand what your loved ones would have wanted.
A survey by the National Funeral Directors Association found that two-thirds of Americans agreed that telling loved ones about end of life plans and funeral wishes is important – but only 21 per cent had actually sat down and had that talk.
Here are 10 important questions to ask yourself, to help you figure out how you can begin end of life planning. If you want to talk to your loved ones about their funeral wishes or what they’d want at the end of life, these questions are a great starting point for talking about death and their wishes.
Do you have a will?
Making a will is an important part of getting your affairs in order. If you or a loved one dies without a valid will, there can be serious complications which might lead to your wishes not being followed. In some cases, loved ones may be unexpectedly left without any inheritance.
Anyone can make a will, although you have to be aged 18 or over to do so in most states. The will must be signed by you in the presence of two witnesses and then signed by those two witnesses. It’s usually a good idea to hire an attorney to make sure everything is covered in your will, especially if you have lots of different assets – such as property, cash savings or own a business.
Who would you want to be your executor?
When you make a will, you can name the executor or executors of your estate. The executor is responsible for organizing your property and possessions after you die, paying any estate tax, and making sure the inheritance is shared out in accordance with your will.
Choosing an executor is an important decision, as they will oversee the management of your estate. You should choose someone who you trust to be reliable, well-organized and honest.
Would you want to donate your tissue and organs?
This can be a very sensitive question about death to ask a loved one, but it’s important to know. Organ and tissue donation saves and improves thousands of lives every year in the U.S. However, only around three in 1,000 deaths occur in circumstances that make donation possible. This means it is vital that hospitals know who would be willing to donate their organs and tissue.
Ask your loved ones how they feel about organ donation, or let them know if you would want your organs and tissue to be donated after you die. If you want to be an organ donor, signing the Government’s Organ Donor Register will help doctors know what you would have wanted.
Have you made an advance health care directive?
An advance health care directive, also called simply an advance directive, allows you to decide what kind of medical treatment you would want if you become unable to communicate your wishes yourself.
If something happens to you, would you want to be put on a ventilator as part of your end of life care? Would you refuse a blood transfusion? The advance directive document also allows you to choose a health care proxy, someone who you trust to make decisions on your behalf if you’re unable to do so. If you want to make an advance directive about end of life care, be aware that you will need to complete the relevant forms, which vary between states. Contact your state government for more information.
What are your funeral wishes?
Organizing a funeral for a loved one is always emotionally difficult, but if you’re not sure about what they would have wanted, it can add to the stress and worry. Making a list of funeral wishes will let your nearest and dearest know what kind of service you would like.
Burial or cremation? Religious or non-religious? Flowers or donations to charity? There are lots of decisions to be made when arranging a funeral. Talking about death and making funeral wishes can outline those important choices for the people saying goodbye. Writing a list of funeral wishes can be as basic or as detailed as you want – right down to what music you want and what food you want served at the wake.
Funeral wishes aren’t legally binding, like an advance directive or a will, but it will give friends and family an idea of what you would have wanted, saving them time and worry.
What do you want to be remembered for?
Talking about death and end of life planning isn’t just about the practicalities. It’s also a chance to reflect on life and see what’s truly important to you.
Ask your loved ones – and yourself – how they’d like to be remembered after they’re gone. Do they have any regrets? What’s their proudest achievement? If they could tell their great-grandchildren one thing, what would it be?
Better still, why not ask your loved ones to write these thoughts down. Being able to re-read their thoughts on life and responses to questions about death could provide comfort and guidance in the future when the people they love miss them most.