People rarely like to dwell on the fact that they or a loved one will die someday, even though it’s an inevitable part of life.
From a practical standpoint, we would make preparations to ensure that survivors aren’t placed in financial jeopardy, and that they know the deceased person’s final wishes.
“But the reality is that people procrastinate because the topic is too painful to think about,” says Susan Alpert, author of Later is Too Late: Hard Conversations That Can’t Wait.
Alpert, who lost her husband suddenly after 46 years of marriage, knows from experience about the confusion, chaos and disastrous financial consequences that occur, and she believes it’s time for people to make a change in their thinking and planning about death.
“No one wants to admit that life has an end, but picture your spouse, your children, your parents, or anyone else you hold dear,” she says. “What would their lives be like if you died and hadn’t properly prepared your estate and legal documents?”
Survivors also are often left to make decisions about funerals or memorial services while they are still grieving. Just 23 percent of people over age 50 have planned for their funeral or burial, according to the AARP. Meanwhile, funerals come with a hefty price tag that keeps rising, with the average cost in 2014 at $7,181, according to the National Funeral Directors Association.
“Making arrangements for your own funeral may feel surreal,” Alpert says. “But imagine the pain others will have dealing with that if you don’t step up and do it for them – and take care of the cost now if possible.”
The good news, she says, is that despite the emotion involved, preparing for death can be handled over time and at your own pace, although it does require motivation and organization.
Among the things to consider:
• Collect important documents and details in one place. Some of the personal information that should be gathered together would include names of your doctors, your bank accounts, Social Security information, life insurance policies, a will and anything else that’s critical to your estate. Having all the important personal information in one place makes a huge difference in reducing stress and making the process easier for the person or persons left behind.
• Plan that funeral. It’s not a pleasant topic, but it’s natural to wonder how our lives will be honored after death. Our vision might not be the same as family members, Alpert says, so it’s important to decide how and where the final resting place will be and whether there should a funeral or a memorial service. Do you want a burial or cremation? Do you prefer an old-fashioned obituary or a simple social media announcement?
• Hire experts. “There is a business for every need, and the arena of death is no exception,” Alpert says. Try contacting a team of professionals – attorneys, accountants, financial advisors – who can help sort through all the financial and legal details ahead of time so there are fewer challenges to face at the time of death.
“The best way to honor a loved one’s legacy is to ensure that his or her wishes are carried out after death,” Alpert says. “But that shouldn’t happen at the expense of a budget when you’re grieving and can’t make clear decisions.”
Susan Covell Alpert, author of Later is Too Late: Hard Conversations That Can’t Wait (www.susanalpertconsulting.com), is a lecturer, consultant, entrepreneur and frequent guest on national radio and television shows.