A correspondent in a recent Dear Abby column posed a great end-of-life preparation question. He or she was a single person with grown children who wrote, “I want to make sure I am not a burden to them even after death. I have a will and no bills. What else do I need to do?”
Dear Abby replied with questions about whether he/she had an advance directive for health care, at least one health care advocate named to carry out those wishes, a cemetery plot selected and paid for and money set aside for a funeral or memorial. If those items were taken care of, the person just needed to make the children aware of it.
That sounds simple enough – maybe too simple. Estate planning attorneys know many of their clients need trusts, beyond a basic will. Dear Abby could have gone further with her advice to reduce being a burden. Here are five tips from The Doyenne of Death® to round out Abby’s advice:
Tip One: Write your own obituary. It’s your life story, tell it your way. Your kids may not know all the details that you’d want known. They can edit it down for the newspaper to minimize print obituary costs or run it free online in all its full glory. Colorful, humorous obituaries can make you famous when they go viral. Plus, you’ll take that burden off the kids’ shoulders.
Tip Two: Decide what kind of disposition method you want, and discuss it. Dear Abby assumed the person would be buried, not cremated. A national average of 42% of Americans are choosing cremation, with rates of 60-78% of populations in Western states opting for burning over burial. You can also donate your body to science, but the paperwork must be filled out while you’re alive and in sound mental shape.
Tip Three: Put your funeral plans and information on file with a reputable funeral home, and let your kids know you’ve pre-planned. If you can afford to pre-pay with a guaranteed funeral trust or insurance policy, let them know you’ve done that and where to find the paperwork.
Tip Four: Don’t assume the kids will be levelheaded about splitting up your personal possessions. If they get along reasonably well, have a sit-down meeting at your home. Story telling about the history of some items can start the conversation. Let siblings discuss which of your items they want. Then put labels on those items to help head off disputes after you’re gone. Or, make an itemized list of who gets what pieces of personal property and attach it to your will.
Tip Five: What about being a burden before death? Very few of us go from being healthy to dead quickly. The idea of going to sleep and not waking up is appealing but unlikely. What insurance do you have in place to help you avoid being a burden if you become a frail elderly or demented person? A health care crisis without insurance is a fast track to bankruptcy. Medicare only covers so much.
It’s also a good idea to make a master file of information on accounts and benefits that you have – everything from attorneys, banks and brokerages to passwords, utilities and veterans information. If you have a will and no bills, these additional five tips will truly help avoid being a burden on your kids.