Guest post by Katelyn MacDougall, MSW, LICSW
Death planning is the act of making proactive decisions about what should happen at the end of your life. It involves thinking about your preferences for healthcare, financial, funeral, and legacy decisions. Understandably, this can be a difficult task for some people.
Foremost, the topic of death is often viewed as taboo or daunting. We spend more time planning weddings or vacations than we put into this inevitable part of life. When we die is something we have no control over, but being prepared with a death plan (or end-of-life plan) puts some control back in your hands. This can offer real peace of mind to you and the loved ones you’ll leave behind someday.
Who should plan ahead for death?
Everyone over the legal adult age of 18 should consider having some end-of-life planning in place.
It seems contrary to plan for your death when you are young and just starting your life. But planning at any age can provide peace of mind, and be a gift to your family in the event of a medical emergency.
You will also have a great base to work off of during major life changes, making planning easier to tackle in the long run. Then you can move forward with planning maintenance every few years or at major life changes like marriage, divorce, having children or grandchildren.
What’s Included in a Death Plan (End-of-Life Plan)?
You may feel unsure where to start planning. Here are four things that compose a comprehensive end of life plan.
1.Advance Care Plan
Advanced care planning is thinking about and dictating the care you would like to receive in the case of a serious medical event. You can articulate your wishes and put them into a directive, a legal document that outlines your decisions. There are many considerations around medical care, but a few important aspects include whether or not your want medical professionals to use of CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation), ventilators (assisted breathing), artificial nutrition, artificial hydration, and comfort care (palliative care) if you are near the end of life.
One very important aspect of advanced care planning involves designating a health care agent. A health care proxy form is used to identify the person(s) you would like to make medical decisions for you in the event you could not make decisions on your own. This should be someone you trust to follow your healthcare wishes.
You don’t have to think about these complex concepts alone. You can discuss general ideas with a trusted family member or in detail with a medical provider. There are also many tools, such as Cake (you’re on our blog right now!), that walk you through different aspects of end of life planning. You can update your documents and decisions as live evolves. It is important to revisit your plan over time.
Your estate includes everything you own. An estate plan ensures that your money, property, and belongings are distributed according to your wishes when you die. Even if your estate is modest, it is important to consider making a plan. If you don’t make a plan, each state governs how your assets will be handled. This can result in costly fees and taxes for your loved ones.
Laws do change, so it’s important to revisit your plan if it’s been a while since you first drafted your will or trust. A few important aspects of estate planning include having a will and/or trust, beneficiaries designated for financial accounts or life insurance,
Funerals or memorial services are for your loved ones to honor you and comfort each other through their grief. There are many benefits to planning your funeral in advance.
First, you can dictate exactly what you would like. There are many choices to be made including things like burial or cremation, what type of service you would prefer, and how you want to be remembered.
Second, you can control costs for loved ones by making these decisions for yourself. Families may fall into the trap of spending money as an expression of their grief and love for you, rather than a practical or affordable choice.
Last, as with all death planning, planning your funeral can take a tremendous burden off your family and friends. Grieving is emotionally draining and there are many tasks to be accomplished after someone dies. Having your funeral planned takes a big weight off their plate and they can be comforted knowing they can honor your wishes.
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, legacy is “a gift by will, especially of money or other personal property” or “something transmitted by or received from an ancestor or predecessor or from the past.” 3 Legacy planning involves intentionally thinking about what you will leave when you die.
Many people typically think legacy planning is only for the rich and famous, but every person has the opportunity to build a legacy for their family and friends. Legacy could be as simple as passed down family recipes or infamous family stories. Whatever you want your legacy to be, it can be helpful to think about and to ensure it’s passed on when you die.
Getting Started on Your Death Plan
Thinking about your own death can be emotional at first. To make it a bit easier, you may want to set aside time for this unique task, scheduling in breaks as needed. You’re not likely to tackle it all in one or two sessions — and that’s OK! Work through one category at a time.
Katelyn MacDougall, MSW, LICSW
Katelyn has been an oncology social worker for 7 years. She is an employee of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in the Department of Psychosocial Oncology and Palliative Care. She works alongside medical teams, helping patients and families cope with the impact of cancer and related diseases through professional counseling, consultation, and connection with supportive resources. Katelyn is embedded in the Young Adult Program, providing direct patient care and program development for young adults ages 18-39 with cancer.
- “Advanced Care Planning: Healthcare Directives.” (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/advance-care-planning-healthcare-directives
- Fried, Carla. “8 Essential Steps for Estate Planning.” Consumer Reports, 24 October 2018, (https://www.consumerreports.org/cro/estate-planning/essential-steps-for-estate-planning).
- Legacy. (n.d.) In Merriam-Webster’s collegiate dictionary. Retrieved from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/legacy