End of life planning: Why it’s important & how to start?

When people think about planning for the future, they might focus on happy occasions. Weddings, starting a family or paying for a child’s education are all events that someone may happily plan for. However, considering what might happen in less joyous times may be just as important.

End of life planning puts instructions in place to help guide loved ones upon your death. Whilst you may think you’re too young to worry about dying, there are good reasons why people of all ages might want to consider having a plan. Accidents and terminal illness can affect anyone, often when you least expect it. End of life planning could help during these unthinkable and tragic times.

What is end of life planning?

It’s often hard to think about, but end of life planning may be important to providing for your and your family’s future. This typically includes creating an advance medical directive, writing a Will and pre-planning one’s funeral. Each step can help accomplish different goals:

  • Advance directive

Also known as a healthcare directive or living will, this legal document allows you to specify what actions should be taken for your health if you are no longer able to make these decisions for yourself.

  • Will

This document details how who you’d like to distribute your money, property and other items (collectively called your “estate”) after your death. It may also name a legal guardian for any children under the age of 18 or establish a trust to help care for them financially.

  • Funeral planning
    A document outlining your funeral wishes can provide guidance to family and friends who are likely to arrange the service after your death. It can include details for any arrangements you’ve already made or suggestions to help them create a service that reflects your personality.

Why is end of life planning important?

It may feel uncomfortable or strange to consider these topics, but there are practical reasons for doing so.

An advance directive can provide important instructions to hospital staff or healthcare workers. This could eliminate confusion over “what you would want” and save your loved ones from making tough decisions during what is often a difficult time.

Writing a Will provides you the opportunity to decide who inherits your estate. The courts are responsible for dividing people’s property when they die without a Will. They are required to follow laws that outline who gets what, which may not reflect your relationships or wishes. A Will could help the people you choose receive their inheritance according to your wishes.

Finally, pre-planning your funeral could help ensure that your final wishes are met. You may have strong preferences, such as how your remains are to be handled, that you want to be sure are followed. Planning your own funeral could also help you control the costs associated with a service and burial.

Where to start

Planning for the end of your life could start with writing down your wishes or preferences for how you’d want things handled, if you were around to do it yourself. It may make sense to tackle each type of document separately.

In New Zealand, anyone considered to be legally competent to make their own healthcare choices has the right to make an advance directive. This process doesn’t require any outside help, either from a family member, healthcare professional or solicitor. It’s generally recommended that advance directives be made in writing, though you can provide verbal instructions to a person or persons you trust.

A Will may sound complicated, but even this can be created without help from a solicitor. Will kits are available that can help people with straightforward estates draft a document that is legally binding. However, there may be situations when it makes sense to seek expert legal advice.

Funeral planning may involve taking concrete steps. You might purchase a burial plot, select the songs that will be sung during the service, or take out a funeral insurance policy to help your family cover the costs. However, you could also take a less involved approach by writing down some general suggestions about the burial or service.

Note that these documents can be updated in the future. You can amend or write new versions to reflect any changes in your personal life, finances or opinions.

Talking to your family

After you’ve given some thought to your end of life plan, it may be time to talk to your family or close friends. This may be a tough conversation to start. However, the benefits of discussing your plans and wishes could far outweigh any awkwardness or discomfort.

Thinking about our own death can be difficult. It might be just as hard for loved ones to imagine their lives without you. They may have strong emotional reactions or could refuse to discuss these matters. It may help if they understand why you want to have this conversation. Explaining any worries you might have, such as the financial burden your family could experience by paying for your funeral, may help them better understand why this is important to you.

You may also want to approach the end of life planning discussion in different ways with members of your family. This might mean having an ongoing dialog, rather than one big conversation. Some loved ones may react better in a one-on-one situation, whilst others might prefer a group setting.

Finally, it may be a good idea to provide copies of your advance directive, Will or funeral wishes to a family member you trust. You may also want to let them know where they can find the originals. That way, when the time comes, they will have your instructions ready and could help ensure they are followed.

Start your planning today

No matter your age or the stage of life you’re in, end of life planning could help you protect the ones you love. Outlining your healthcare preferences, writing a Will and thinking about your funeral wishes could help make your passing a little easier for family and close friends.

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