No one really likes thinking about death, especially their own, but the reality is it is an inevitability. Yet, though we know death is definitive, most of us do not know when death or incapacity (being physical or mental) will occur.
However unspoken, I would dare to guess that most of us have a very similar idealized scenario concerning our demise. Grow to an old age (with the definition of old ever changing with improvements in medication that have most Americans living longer). Retain our health and mental facilities until we know that it is just our expired time. Die in our sleep surrounded by love ones.
I wish that for everyone, but unfortunately it is unlikely to be your reality. The Grim Reaper is not so accommodating. We are not generally forewarned that far in advance of our final destination, but there are some things that we all can and should do to prepare for our selves and most importantly our loved ones. Besides the obviousness of how death and/or incapacity affects us personally, the longer lasting impact is on those that care for us.
Draft a will. This is not something that only concerns rich people or those with significant assets. Think about it do you want your family in dysfunction, fighting, over who gets your mink or that bracelet or watch. Make those designations clearly in writing so that your wishes may be honored and you attempt to eliminate any unnecessary in fighting. Say you own a home and have three kids. Do you want the home to be sold and the proceeds to be evenly split. Do you want the house to be left to the one child who doesn’t already own a home? The reality is that everyone’s reality is different and the irony is that if you do not take the time and use a lawyer to deal with the possibilities prior to your death one will most likely be used at a higher expense to fix the problem then if had been used preventively.
If for whatever reason you cannot afford an attorney, write it down and use a notary and witness. Not the recommended method, but better than nothing. Remember you are not locked into a will until you are either legally incapacitated or deceased. So as circumstances changes as well as relationships you are free to update and change as needed.
Sign a Living Will. The cliff noted version designates that a living will is an instrument that is a directive to physicians or others that lets people state their wishes for end of life medical care, in case they become unable to communicate their decisions. It has no power after death. If the thought of being hooked up to tubes for and extended amount of time is particularly unappealing to you, get a living will signed. Once again if an attorney isn’t in the budget there are many suitable forms on line at a nominal fee.
Get life insurance. The more you are able to secure the better. Without complicating this process understand that the US government taxes your estate significantly upon your death (up to 50%). It is a complicated scenario that does require an estate attorney, specifically knowledgeable as how not to deplete your assets upon your passing. However, one very uncomplicated scenario involves life insurance. Generally it is not taxable income to the beneficiaries and like your will you may designate and divide it proceeds as you see fit and may change any intended beneficiaries at any time prior to incapacitation or death. Meaning, unlike your other assets such as your home or money in your own account that is taxable against your beneficiaries, $250,000.00, $500,000.00 or even $1,000,000.00 in life insurance benefits will be distributed fully upon your designation.
Make sure you are an organ donor. I am not up to date with religious restrictions, but if your faith does not expressly forbid it make sure you are an organ donor. It is one of the greatest acts of kindness and selflessness we can all contribute. It does not cost a thing and not intending to sound morbid, it is painless. Upon your death your organs can potentially help save the lives of others. It is selfish not to take action.
I realize that most of us are not necessarily against the idea of organ donation and understand the purpose and benefit of having both a will and living will, but inaction is often brought about by simple procrastination and in many cases just a natural inclination to avoid facing our own mortality. I understand it and write this not as someone who has been on top of his affairs (even with a legal background). As a person of color in America, growing up in an urban environment, I was not expecting to initially live past 24 years. I know that may now sound silly, but I had seen so much death and knew what the statistics were at the time of the likelihood of a young Black male having over a 50% chance of being dead or incarcerated prior to the age of 24. Once I passed the threshold I think I just refused to look at death the same.
Embracing life is always the preferred path, but it is imperative that we do a few things to prepare for death. Again, if not for yourself then minimally for your loved ones. You must handle your affairs to minimize the stress and burden to your self and your family. Let part of your legacy be that others are comforted by your death or affliction with not only the thought but, the empirical reality that you took care of them.