At Keen Wealth, we believe that financial planning isn’t just about money. It’s about using your money to live the best, most fulfilling, and happiest life you can.
But what happens when it’s no longer possible to live your “best life?” Once illness, a debilitating injury, or old age bring you near the end of your life, do you have a plan for living your final days with dignity?
Planning for a “good death” isn’t morbid and it’s not a contradiction in terms. These four steps are a thoughtful and responsible way to make a plan that will allow you to live out your life as you see fit.
1. Have a clear understanding of your condition.
Seniors who have been active throughout their retirements often struggle to admit when they are no longer self-sufficient. This can lead to anxiety, depression, and dangerous outbursts of independence, like refusing to see doctors or take medication.
If you’re struggling to accept or understand a terminal medical condition, schedule a meeting between you, your doctor, and the family members who are directly involved in your care. It might be a good idea if everyone came to that meeting with a list of important questions. Don’t leave until you all understand exactly what your condition is and how that condition is likely going to progress.
If your doctor recommends any prescription drugs or specialists, ask a loved one to help you contact your Medicare provider or a trusted health care professional. Make sure you have the coverage you need, and if not, make sure you’re prepared for any additional out-of-pocket costs.
2. Ask yourself what quality of life means to you.
Modern advances in health care have made balancing length of life with quality of life a very complicated and personal issue. Some folks also have very strong religious or spiritual convictions associated with certain types of treatments, particularly when it comes to resuscitation or severely diminished brain activity. Finally, your feelings about quality of life might be influenced by how you saw your own parents and grandparents face the ends of their lives.
No one can define quality of life for you. But I urge you to think about what a “good day” would mean for you once you’re no longer able to care for yourself. How much physical or mental deterioration are you willing to accept as a part of life before you’ll no longer feel like you’re living a good life?
3. Have an honest conversation with your spouse.
These are tough questions to think about. Discussing your answers with your spouse won’t be any easier. Your life and financial planning have succeeded, in no small part, because the two of you agreed on the big decisions. There’s a chance you won’t agree on how you each define quality of life. What one of you sees as a dignified death might strike the other as “giving up.” External factors like the cost of extended care or squabbles about your estate might affect this conversation. And above all, you’ll both struggle with the pain of letting go.
You and your spouse don’t have to agree on how you’ll each live out the ends of your lives. But you do have to agree to respect each other’s wishes. If necessary, ask a close family member to help mediate so that you come away prepared to honor your spouse’s plan with love and compassion, hard as that may be.
4. Review your estate planning documents.
Now that you have considered the totality of your situation and made some decisions, it’s time to make sure your wishes are in line with your current estate planning documents.
You can read this blog post for more information about estate planning, but in short, you need a last will and testament, power of attorney, healthcare directive, living will, and potentially a trust. It’s a good idea to review these documents every couple of years, but it’s essential that you do so if you know you are nearing the end of your life. Your estate plan lists beneficiaries, but first and foremost, these documents are for YOUR benefit. They outline how you want to be cared for, and how you want your hard-earned assets distributed once you pass. Most importantly, these documents are changeable as long as you still possess the mental capabilities to do so.
So don’t wait, especially if you need to make any changes to your beneficiary designations or health care directives. Get with the professionals you’ve trusted to put your estate plan together and the loved ones you’ve trusted to execute that plan. Even if you’re not going to make any changes, reviewing your final wishes and talking through them with your loved ones will provide some peace of mind that you’re leaving behind a strong and lasting legacy.
Finally, make sure that your executors know who to call at Keen Wealth. Helping your beneficiaries execute your last wishes is part of our commitment to you. We don’t just have the technical knowledge; we also have the personal knowledge that has come from working with you for decades. Helping your loved ones through this difficult time is a responsibility we’ll approach with the same care and attention to detail we used on every other aspect of your plan.
Bill Keen is a CHARTERED RETIREMENT PLANNING COUNSELOR℠ and independent financial advisor with more than 25 years of industry experience. As the founder and CEO of Keen Wealth Advisors, a registered investment advisory firm, he specializes in providing personalized retirement planning designed to help people thrive before and during their retirement years. With a passion for educating others, Bill regularly blogs about retirement planning, hosts the podcast Keen on Retirement, and has contributed to U.S. News and World Report, Reuters, Wall Street Journal’s Market Watch, Yahoo Finance, and other publications. Based in Overland Park, Kansas, Bill and his team work with clients throughout the greater Kansas City area and across the nation. To learn more, connect with him on LinkedIn or visit www.keenwealthadvisors.com.
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