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‘Tis the Season

This season is about Peace on Earth, but what about Peace of Mind?  Believe it or not, talking about, or even better, writing down your wishes about your care after you pass, can contribute towards one’s peace of mind, the issue is breaking through our unease when we confront the idea of death.

Ultimately the issue at the end of the day is that we do not know what we do not know.  It might seem easier to just to “let your family handle your arrangements” or to “just toss you to the curb.”  While in writing that seems harsh, people have been saying this to funeral directors for years.  The hard truth is that this approach fails, that this approach can cause emotional harm, financial issues, and create additional stress for those you leave behind.

Did you know that a Power of Attorney expires upon death, and if you did not leave written authorization, that it falls to your next of kin (a spouse with dementia, or biological children that were disinherited or can’t get along, or someone further removed from you) to make your funeral arrangements?  This can lead to days turning into weeks, sometimes month, and a judge making the decision – this can drain your family emotionally and the finances of your estate.  Or perhaps a disinherited biological child will step forward and make the choices that they want and choices that probably won’t mirror what you would have wanted.  Designating an “agent of disposition” will alleviate this quandary.

Did you know that cremation is more legalistic in the state of Texas than burial?  You can be buried within 24 hours and without a signed death certificate in the State of Texas.  However, there is a 48 hour waiting period for cremation, the doctor must sign the death certificate and has up to 10 days in order to do so, your immediate next of kin has to sign a cremation authorization, and depending on the county you die in, there could be other required permits.  This means that it can take 2-10 days, or even more, to be cremated, especially if your family disagrees as to burial or cremation.  And don’t forget that you must either be embalmed or refrigerated within 24 hours.  However, if you provide self-authorization in writing that you want to be cremated, then your next of kin does not need to sign a cremation authorization which has the potential to speed up the process.  And if you include your wishes on refrigeration or embalming, that also removes a decision from the shoulders of your grieving family.

In my experience, families that preplan give a huge gift to the ones they leave behind.  Now those family members might not want to wake up on Christmas Day to a stocking stuffed with prearrangements, but when the time comes to use them, they will understand and be immensely grateful.

Life Affirming Conversations

End of life conversations can be intimidating and difficult, but that doesn’t have to be the case.  In changing our perspective, we realize that in fact these are conversations that result in life affirming decisions.  By writing down our preferences, we control our right to choose what happens at the end.  Engaging in these conversations and decisions is an act of love, as you are ensuring that your family does not have to guess what you want when you are no longer in a position to communicate.  Making a plan, and engaging your family in it as you know best, will go far in reducing stress and anxiety when your loved ones have to make decisions that impact you.

So what kind of decisions?

Well, who will be your Medical Power of Attorney and/or your Statutory Durable Power of Attorney?  Have you created an Advanced Directive or an Out-of-Hospital DNR?  If you are not comfortable starting these conversations with your family, then you have another option – in 2016 Medicare approved payment for end of life conversations with your physician. Or, you can use the opportunity of holidays and evening dinners to organically start the conversation with your family by just asking what they envision taking place for themselves at the end of their life.

The same holds true with your wishes regarding your funeral.  Your Power of Attorney expires upon death.  Who will you appoint your Agent of Disposition?  Do you prefer cremation or burial?  These are also important discussions in which to involve your family.  Moreover, you can visit your preferred Funeral Home to document and/or prepay for your chosen services.

While you are alive and healthy, you get to make these choices.  Others can provide input, but it is ultimately your choice.  And by proactively making end of life decisions, you are affirming your life decisions and reducing the stress and anxiety that comes when family members do not know their loved ones preferences.