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Plan Well, Retire Well

Follow Up…Talking about Death over Dinner

Prior to Thanksgiving last year, I wrote this post: Talking about Death over [a dead] Turkey. What I didn't know was how timely this post would be in my family's life. You see, my husband's grandma came home from rehabilitation the day before Thanksgiving. The financial educator in me wanted to "practice what I preached." As we were getting ready to sit down to eat, a twitter follower sent me two very disheartening messages about "how it's inappropriate to have that type of conversation during Thanksgiving…" All the momentum and motivation I had built up throughout the day to have the conversation went out the window. Instead of using the moment to bring up the important topic of estate planning, I silently ate my turkey and felt very defeated.

Two days later, Grandma went into the intensive care unit following an incident and by the following Tuesday, she was gone. This all happened very quickly and our whole lives were turned upside down. Sitting in the hospital with all of my husband's family members, so many questions were floating around. Who is the Power of Attorney? What are Grandma's wishes? Are we doing the right thing? Since none of us seemed to know the answer to those important questions… we waited. Here are a few things I learned from the experience:

Do NOT wait to have the conversation

If you have aging parents, have a terminal illness or have children, please don't wait to have these types of conversations! A lot of our questions could have been answered, if I had just had the courage to ask them on Thanksgiving. Tools and worksheets from The Conversation Project and Death Over Dinner can help to facilitate the conversation. Knowing what your wishes are and how you want certain things to be done is really important. Without knowing what your own wishes are, you can't complete the next task.

Get your Power of Attorney and a Will DONE

In order to effectively lay out your wishes, You'll need both a Power of Attorney for both healthcare and financials and a Will. Your Power of Attorney needs to be a person you trust, most of the time your Power of Attorney can be either your spouse or a close family member. (Also, make sure this person is comfortable being your Power of Attorney, so ask permission first!) This person will make decision on your behalf in the event you become incapacitated. This means you may be unable to make decision clearly (like with dementia or Alzheimer's), unable to speak or are unconscious. When this happens, your Power of Attorney's "power" becomes active the moment you are deemed incapacitated and they can take over where you left off. This is why it's so important to make your wishes known ahead of time! In the event you are incapacitated, no one will be able to read your mind or go back in time to find out what you really wanted.

A will is a document that clearly states how you want your property to be distributed after your death. A will and power of attorney documents can be done together to save time, and money. When you write a will, you have to name someone the executor of your estate. An executor will step in after your death to carry out your wishes according to terms of the document and should be a responsible person you trust. The executor has to agree and be comfortable in the position (ask first again).

Having the conversation with a loved one and making sure those documents are completed needs to be a priority. This is not limited to seniors, sick folks, or people with children but applies to anyone who owns property. Having this conversation is hard. Talking about death and money is extremely difficult, but don't let fear hinder you from having the conversation with your spouse or loved one. You never know when it may be too late…