Questions about death can tend to creep up soon after suffering the loss of a loved one or when tragedy strikes. Western society, in general, is uncomfortable with the idea of talking about death even when it’s necessary to do so. Certain taboos and superstitions surround the topic of death.
For example, many people believe that by talking about death, you’re willing it to happen so they refuse to engage in any death planning at all. There are many end of life planning questions that would benefit most families to discuss before it’s too late. If you're wondering what questions to ask yourself, keep reading below for some ideas to get the conversation started.
Tip: Before you start asking a loved one questions about death, read our guide on how to talk about death with family.
1. “When will I die?”
Many people obsess over knowing when they’ll die. They spend their days reviewing life span charts, mulling over their lifestyle choices, and dissecting every morsel of food they consume.
There’s even a death clock app online that’ll help you with these predictions. But regardless of how well you can calculate all of the elements that combine to cause your death, none of us know exactly when we’ll die.
The current average age of mortality in the U.S. is 79 years for women and 71 for men. This doesn’t mean that you’ll live this long and then suddenly die. Also, it does not mean that you’re guaranteed to live as long as the chart says.
While the choices you make every day have an overwhelming impact on your lifespan, you may have to factor in accidental deaths or unexpected illness as well.
2. “Will it hurt?”
If you find yourself wondering if it’ll hurt when you die, the general answer is no according to the medical community. There are two phases of death - the causes leading up to it, and the act of death itself. It may be that death can feel painful if you suffer an injury right before you die or if you’re dying of a painful terminal illness such as cancer.
But what happens when you die and your body starts to shut down? The biological part of death is generally considered to be pain-free. We learn more about what it feels like to die as people who’ve suffered near-death experiences share what they felt at the precise moment of death. Some people have explained death as a pain-free and sometimes euphoric process.
3. “What happens to my soul when I die?”
This question is steeped in religious and spiritual dogmas about what happens to the soul after death. Different religions teach different beliefs concerning death and the afterlife. In some religions, there’s a general belief that when you die, your soul separates from the physical body and reunites with the creator.
Other religions teach that the soul lingers here on earth until it reincarnates into a different physical body or another non-human living form. There’s no scientific proof or method of measuring what happens to the soul when we die. Whatever your beliefs are, it’s your faith that will see you through at the moment when you’re facing certain death.
4. “Is there life after death?”
Similar to not knowing exactly what happens to the soul at death, there isn’t a way of scientifically measuring the concept of life after death.
There are plenty of accounts of people who can hear or feel their departed loved one’s presence around them. The medical community has long disclaimed this possibility of life after death, but religious viewpoints still offer hope that life goes on after death.
5. “Will I go to heaven?”
Heaven is a concept that’s taught by certain religions around the world. Since there’s no concrete evidence of the existence of heaven, and your goal may be to get there, consider living your life in the best way possible that aligns with your beliefs.
6. “Do I want to be buried or cremated?”
The decision of whether to bury or cremate your body after death should be carefully considered. Things to take into account when deciding are:
- Your religious beliefs
- Cultural traditions
- Personal preferences
For some people, the costs of burial vs. cremation is also a factor in making this decision. An average funeral and burial costs in the range of $8,000 - $10,000, according to the National Funeral Directors Association. A cremation will set you back between $4,000 - $7,000, depending on which state you live in.
7. “How will I pay for my funeral?”
After you’ve decided how your body will be disposed of when you die - whether by burial or cremation - the next thing to consider is how you’ll pay for it. Most funeral homes offer pre-paid funeral services called preneed plans.
A preneed plan allows you to arrange your funeral services and choose your casket before you die. You can pay in installments or all at once, depending on your financial needs. You can also purchase a funeral expense life insurance policy to cover those costs. Most funeral homes will accept life insurance policies as payment.
8. “What happens if I die without a way to pay for death expenses?”
Most people who die suddenly and unexpectedly won’t have preneed funeral arrangements in place. Unfortunately, this leaves your family and friends burdened with the final expenses. While no one’s legally responsible for your end-of-life expenses, families and communities can come together to help pitch-in for the funeral.
If you don’t want to be a burden to anyone, consider donating your body to science.
9. “How will I know that my family will follow my wishes?”
There’s no way of guaranteeing that your family will honor your last wishes. The best that you can do is to have all of your end-of-life planning documents in place before you die.
You can leave explicit instructions on how you want your body disposed of, but, in the end, you’ll have to rely on someone to carry out those wishes.
10. “Is my family responsible for my debt?”
The simplest answer to this question is no. But, of course, with most things, this doesn’t hold in every situation.
Typically, your family won’t be responsible for your debts after you die. But your estate may be held liable for any outstanding debts before any distributions can be made to your heirs.
11. “How do I let my children know what I want them to have?”
The easiest way to let each of your heirs know what you’re leaving them as part of their inheritance is to name beneficiaries to any property before you die.
Consult with an estate attorney or financial advisor before you begin assigning your property. Any changes to your estate may have critical financial or tax consequences. Consider having a will drawn up to divide your property among your heirs.
12. “Can I leave money for a minor?”
In most cases, you can leave money for a child under the age of 18. Some states will require that you leave any of your estate assets in a trust for the child until they reach the age of majority which can vary by state.
You may have to designate a trusted individual or corporation to act as the guardian of the minor’s property until they reach the age of 18 or is otherwise stated in your documents.
13. “What about my car?”
Your car can be left to whomever you want by simply adding them to the vehicle’s certificate of title even if they are under the age of 18.
If there’s a lien on the vehicle, a minor child won’t be responsible for assuming your vehicle debt.
14. “Does my new spouse get to keep my house?”
This is a tricky question that's best left up to the professionals. Estate matters can quickly get complicated, especially when there are children and a second spouse involved. The rules vary from state to state.
15. “Can the kids fight over my estate?”
As the saying goes anyone can fight over anything at any time. Whether they’ll win the battle is an entirely different matter.
An estate planning attorney or financial advisor can help sort out your end-of-life documents so that there’s no question over who should get what at the time of your death.
16. “I don’t have any children. Can I give my things to charity?”
You can leave your estate to a designated charity through your will or trust. However, if you’re married at the time of your death, most states require the distribution of a certain percentage of your estate assets to your surviving spouse.
17. “Who will take care of my pet?”
Deciding who’ll take care of your pet after you die is an important decision that should be carefully considered.
Establish an emergency plan well before it’s needed. Determine who’s best for caring for your pet should you die or become incapacitated.
18. “I don’t want to die. What can I do?”
None of us know when we’re going to die. The only thing you can do is live your best life each day so that you can be more death positive when the time comes.
All the precautionary measures to avoid premature death won’t stop disaster from striking when least expected.
Questions About Death and Dying
It’s difficult knowing what to expect from death. There aren’t any handbooks to fully prepare you for what’s to come. The best you can hope for is to live a long and healthy life, and plan for your death so that you don’t leave behind any loose ends.
If you want to learn how to discuss death with others, read our guides on death salons and Death Over Dinner.