Be Prepared: 

Will, Health Care Directive (Living Will), Obituary, and More


Brandon Sun, December 13, 2008

David McConkey

Don’t read this column.

At least not right away. Especially as we head into the festive season, you don’t want to think about the topics discussed here: being prepared for illness, disability, and death.

Perhaps you can clip out this column and read it when you are making your New Year’s resolutions. But, often those resolutions get lost in the shuffle. So, perhaps this column should be saved for the middle of the summer. Or, perhaps a good time might be . . .

There never is a good time, is there? But some issues just should be dealt with. Like writing a will and making those other arrangements that are best made when we are in good health, for the time when we may not be. Dealing with them is part of our responsibilities as a person, family member, and even citizen of the community.

Here is a list of things that are good to arrange as part of life as well as end-of-life planning:

    •    life and disability insurance,
    •    critical illness / long-term care insurance,
    •    health care directive (“living will”),
    •    power of attorney,
    •    up-to-date will,
    •    executor,
    •    guardian for minor children,
    •    organ donations,
    •    ethical will,
    •    list of financial accounts,
    •    list of Internet account usernames and passwords,
    •    wishes for a funeral or other service (or not),
    •    bequests and requests for charitable donations,
    •    wishes for interment, and
    •    a start on your own obituary.

Working on this list will require some researching, checking with friends and family, and consulting with your lawyer and other advisers. (Canadians can refer to this comprehensive financial reference book: You Can't Take it With You: Common-Sense Estate Planning for Canadians.)

Some of the items on this list may not be familiar.

Furthermore, some of these arrangements will need to be revised as life evolves, such as changing employment, getting married, or having children.

Also keep in mind that making these arrangements does not cause disability or hasten death. Completing these arrangements just makes it easier for others you care about.  

The most important thing is to get started. A natural inclination (especially for us procrastinators) is to put off big projects. But to make even a small start is important.

Also important is to leave vital information where it can be found quickly. It’s fine to have original documents at your lawyer’s or in your safety deposit box, for example. But have copies close at hand for those entrusted with your affairs when they need them.

Say it’s a weekend and your family suddenly needs your power of attorney form. It’s in the safety deposit box, isn’t it? But the bank is closed. And, just where is that key to the box, anyway?

The province of Manitoba provides excellent information free on the Internet about wills and estates, power of attorney, and health care directives (living wills). Addressed to seniors, the information would be useful for adults of any age. An informative 68-page guide is available.

There is also a health care directive form that can be printed out, completed, and signed on the spot. 

The concept of an "ethical will" may be new to many. An ethical will is a document that outlines a person's values, life's lessons learned, and hopes for the next generation. "Rather than money or possessions, ethical wills bequeath values, beliefs, and ideals to loved ones," explains Barry Baines, a Minnesota doctor who has written extensively on the subject.

Your death is inevitable, but it is not inevitable that your obituary has to be written in a rush by grieving family members. Getting a start on writing your own obituary is your chance to say what you want others to know about you.

Write down what your life means to you. This may be hardest for others to describe, if you don't.

Putting off what can be difficult, however, is often just too easy. According to one survey, for example, only two percent of people have actually completed a health care directive. Yet as many as 90 percent of people think it’s a good idea to have one.

That is one of the points made by Dianne Godkin, an Alberta nurse who has written a new book about health care directives, Living Will, Living Well.  (In Canada: Living Will, Living Well.)

Reading this column – eventually – and working on this list of arrangements actually could turn out to be not only practical, but also inspirational.  

As Godkin writes in her book, she hopes that the information about health care directives “evokes a sense of wonder about preparing for your own end-of-life; causes you to silently ponder the way you live out each day; and stimulates new questions for you about life and death.”




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