Episode 42: It's Never Too Late to Plan
Updated: Apr 21
Talking about the eventuality of death is not something anyone likes to do - much less plan for. In addition to bringing up a whole host of emotions, it can be just an incredibly uncomfortable conversation to have with someone who is terminally ill. In this episode of Living With Hospice, Mitch discusses why these conversations are necessary to have before death and how to ensure that they are productive.
"Too many people pass away with their legal affairs just up in the air, which means everything is subject to probate. Laws vary from state to state. But when the government gets involved, the family usually loses a part of the estate to the government. It's just the way it works. "
Something that nobody likes to talk about is their memorial service or their funeral service or their will, or anything that has to do with death and dying and afterwards. Truth be told, everyone has an idea of what they would like to have happen - at least, if you're cornered them, and you have them address it- butt most people just don't want to think about it, let alone talk about it.
Then something happens. And it's time to make some decisions, usually after someone has passed, and that's left to the family. It's no fun, and it can bring out the ugly in some family members. I know I've been there and I've had to deal with this on more than one occasion. The good news is, now that you've heard this, it's not too late to plan.
Hello, I'm Mitch Ware, and welcome to another episode of Living With Hospice. Today we're going to talk about, it's never too late to plan. I've had experience with families who, for many different reasons, failed to plan for their loved ones passing. That can turn into a really hot mess really quick, the stress can break the best of families. I've seen it. So why do people put this off?
Well, some are just not sure what to do. They don't want to go to a funeral home and ask because that's just creepy. Many are just flat out terrified, and just really uncomfortable with anything to do with death and dying. That's where I was when I was in my 20s and 30s.
Sadly, sometimes when our loved one is on an end of life journey, this planning all of a sudden drops into our lap. They may be on hospice, or palliative care, or they may even be in the hospital getting treatment, but the end is near. Nobody wants to deal with it. Nobody's comfortable dealing with it. All it really takes is one person in the family to say, "Okay, let's get organized. We don't have to struggle later if we address this now."
I don't know about you all. But I just soon do this now and get it over with make sure we're all squared away, ready to go so that when the time comes, we don't have to deal with making all these tough decisions in the middle of our grief. You know, you can overcome this fear, we all can overcome this fear, by talking about it. Talk to friends. Better yet, talk to the pros at your local funeral home. They'll come to you. You don't have to go there, a lot of people are just flat out freaked out, creeped out at the notion of going to a funeral home. I get it - that's why I was.
Today's professionals that work in the funeral home industry are incredibly professional. They're highly educated, empathetic individuals with tons and tons and tons of training. They don't mind helping you. They don't mind helping your family. Most will even refer you to other professionals if a specific need arises.
So what is important in our thoughts about what to include in our plans? What all should we consider? What do we need to do, so we can be done with it and move on?
A good starting point is to call a family meeting with the loved one. Discuss his or her wishes. This can be a Zoom meeting if need be, because certainly people are scattered all over the country. And of course, we have COVID concerns and in those protocols and everything. Someone should write out the notes from the meeting and circulate to the others so there's no misunderstanding later. We have the meeting, someone's taking notes, and then someone distributes the notes for the group's approval. Sadly, people who don't get their way have a short memory on what was discussed, and especially on what was decided. I have first hand experience with that one too. Simply put, everything in a simple, short, concise email. Send it to everyone involved so everyone is on the same page moving forward. Believe me, it will make your life easier.
Okay, so some of the things that should be discussed and at some point decided upon, are things like of course, the obvious the funeral arrangements or memorial service arrangements, that would be with the funeral director or funeral home. Also, church officials. If it's to be a church funeral, or if a pastor or minister or priest a rabbi is to officiate, they need to be in this process also. Believe me, they can help the family put together what's called an order of service - what you'd like to have done and in what order you would like it done. What should be said, songs that should be sung if you want that to happen, and a time for people to come up and maybe give a little testimony, tell a little story or anecdote about the loved one. All of that stuff can be decided now and the clergy or the funeral home staff can help you put all that together.
Then there are things like florists and flowers. Do you want flowers? Do you not want flowers? If you want flowers, a quick meeting with a florist really helps the family with planning and figuring out things like a budget. Or is a request for instead of flowers, maybe sending donations to a favorite charity? A lot of people are doing that now. The family will send some flowers or have some flowers at the memorial service in visitation - if there is any - and then everyone else donates flower money to the loved ones favorite charity. That is super common nowadays.
Something else that needs to be decided. Does the loved one want a funeral? Or do they want a memorial service? Many people don't even do that anymore. Now granted, COVID had a lot to do with that because for a year or so we couldn't gather together. But now that we can, what kind of service? Is it a traditional service? That's not always what is wanted. Who do they want to officiate? Or do they want someone to officiate? Some people have a friend or relative do all of this and sort of facilitate a celebration of life. Do they want music? Will there be time for attendees to tell a favorite anecdote or story? That's always a wonderful part of any memorial service. Seriously, these stories, especially the funny ones, really helped us with the healing process. It helps us celebrate life. Instead of thinking about loss and death. Death meaning what does death mean? Death means a separation.
You know, my aunt by she was my aunt by marriage was quite a stay at home mom. And I knew that she did some volunteer work but I had no idea what impact she had on her community. At the sharing part of her memorial service - by the way, the church was packed - the minister offered a time for people to come up and tell Auntie stories. I was really surprised because I thought I was her nephew. I didn't know she had so many nephews and nieces. Well, people lined up double file the length of the church to tell stories. These are mostly people in their teens and 20s - couple in their 30s. For over an hour, great, wonderful, personal stories and anecdotes about how my aunt impacted their lives when they were kids. Dozens and dozens of people, young adults now, stood up and spoke about her being a mentor, an Auntie to them. She not only handled storytime in the elementary schools, she also helped tutor kids in math and reading. She was a room grandma, she was beloved by hundreds of kids by the time she retired from that. Without this sharing time at her memorial service, the rest of our family, me included, would have had no idea she had this part of her life. These kids wanted to pay homage to her. Some of them - most of them - had to take time off from work, drive out into the country to this little country church, although it's not a little church. The point being they had to drive out in the country to get to this church and they took the time to do that. It was that important to them.
Something else to think about when we're taking a look at our planning, does our loved one want a theme? And the reason I asked that is boy is that common nowadays, I have attended memorial services where there is a baseball theme or a Hawaiian theme. You know, the Hawaiian theme was one of my favorites. The loved one loved Hawaii. He was stationed there in the Navy for years and years and years and he would go back on vacation when he could. He would often take his family sometimes he would take his extended family and friends. And this was his request that there'll be a celebration of life when he passed that had the aloha spirit. That's the spirit of joy in welcoming. Everyone wore a Hawaiian shirt. Everyone got a traditional Hawaiian type lei allbe with the paper orchids it still counts. There were colorful leis and colorful shirt, bright and cheery all over the place.
Now what about a sport theme? You know, my father in law had a sports theme. He was a true diehard Detroit Tigers fan. Everyone wore their Tiger gear. Now we're in Michigan so most everyone had something of the Tigers to wear, if nothing else a hat. But these gatherings with a theme like this helps, you know, lighten the mood and all the time honoring the loved one. At my father in law's gathering, it was a real celebration of life. We talked about how he loved baseball and how he was a purist in baseball, and how he really followed some of these guys from like the Grand Rapids Whitecaps, which is the A League for the Tigers, all the way through the system, the minor league system up to the big leagues. He would follow them in the big leagues till they retire. He was a walking talking Encyclopedia of baseball, not only the Tigers, because he was in the Coast Guard, he would go to every baseball stadium in every port that they tied up in. So he was a fan, and got to see some of the greats back in the early days of modern baseball in the 50s and 60s. So this theme was very fitting for him and it allowed all of us to honor him and to celebrate his life.
Other considerations are things like, are we going to have a meal? Are we going to have a reception? Is there going to be food? Do they want a memorial celebration party with food and drink and maybe a band or a DJ, also known as a wake by the way. We've had several relatives that didn't want a memorial service. They didn't want a funeral. They just wanted to be cremated, and their ashes scattered over the landscape, where they hunted, or where they recreated or someplace that they felt comfortable, made set aside money for a party later with lots of great food and drink in music. Now that's fairly common these days. That's because people want their money to go to their loved ones and friends and not necessarily into the ground with a walnut or oak casket and to the funeral home.
That brings up the next topic to discuss with your loved one. Does the loved one want to be cremated? If so, what do they desire to happen to their ashes, for example, a lot of people who love the ocean want their ashes scattered in the ocean. Other people that like hiking up in the mountains want their ashes scattered up in the mountains. Some just want their ashes, either buried next to a loved one, or put in an urn and placed on someone's mantle.
Another thing to consider. Someone should make a list of all the bank accounts, all of the investment accounts, all of the pin numbers and all of those passwords. That includes credit cards, utility accounts, like the gas company, the electric company, and so forth, as well as say post office boxes and bank safety deposit boxes, and you need to know where the keys are. For those, someone needs to know. Even grandma and grandpa have social media accounts these days. You need to find out what those pins or passwords are and make sure, like life insurance policies and other valuable documents are located someplace safe, like a bank safety deposit box, and include the titles for vehicles and all of those sorts of things as well as a deed to real estate.
Last but not least, let's take a look at Legal Affairs. Too many people pass away with their legal affairs just up in the air, which means everything is subject to probate. Laws vary from state to state. But when the government gets involved, the family usually loses a part of the estate to the government. It's just the way it works. Simply put, everyone should have a recordable will meaning that it has to be witnessed and signed and dated and notarized. That means it's recordable. This will save time. It's gonna save a ton of money with probate court after your loved one passes. Last wills and testaments, trusts, foundations, all of these things can work to the benefit of your loved one. They just need to figure out what is best for them. The way to do that is to go to an attorney that specializes in these things. Not your uncle. Not the guy next door, not the guy from church, but a real attorney who specializes in these things and find out what's gonna work best for your loved one.
Let's not forget that everyone should have a power of attorney in mind. Meaning your loved one should have a power of attorney, you should have a power of attorney so that if something happens to you, you have a legal advocate that can speak and act on your behalf according to your wishes. There are different powers of attorney and we're not going to get into all that here. There's like durable power of attorney and so forth. There's medical directives that people need to have, again, the attorney can design something that's going to fit your family's needs and allow the family to move forward, exercising or executing the plan that your loved one had in mind. So having all these things in place makes life so much simpler after you or your loved one passes away.
There's no more guesswork, there's no more fighting. Well, there may be fighting because they disagree with how you allocate different things or distribute different things. I guess as long as there's mankind there will be disagreements and resentment that Sally got this and Tommy got that and I got whatever, but there's no fighting in probate court over I deserve this more than they do and our loved one really didn't stipulate who gets what.
One more thing before we move off of legal medical directives are very important, especially a do not resuscitate a DNR. If you don't want to be resuscitated, you need to have a DNR and that needs to be on file with your doctor, your lawyer, and everybody in the family needs to know that. We have them and, of course, you can have it worked out however you want. You could set up these different stipulations, and your lawyer can help you work through all of those things. Having those things done in advance -thinking that through- really saves a lot of hassle in the end.
Planning ahead affords the family options to explore and it reduces the potential for surprises, like shortages of flower, or the church isn't available, or someone scrambling to get all the arrangements in place in passing the hat to cover all the expenses then they forget something and everybody's upset or that or maybe they're not upset but that person terribly embarrassed.
Don't be that person.
Get to planning now if you have a loved one this terminally ill be the brave one to stand up say "You know what, Hey, everybody, let's get organized." And in send them the link to this podcast. It'd be a great way for them to get started.
For yourself, get planning now. Now is the time to get started. It's never too late to start planning.
We really enjoy hearing from you. Please take a minute drop us a note at www.livewith hospice.com. Or you can leave us a note right here on this platform and let you listen to a song. We like to hear how we're doing. And we like to hear stories. We love the stories that you send us and we enjoy reading your comments and your questions. If you ask a question, you just might hear the answer in a future episode. So ask away.
Again, thanks for listening and I look forward to next time. My name is Mitch Ware. Thank you for listening to Living With Hospice. Have a blessed day.