Taking Time in Mid-Life to Prepare End-of-Life Documents

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • When I started graduate school, I took a class entitled “Adult Learning.” One classmate and I (both of whom were over 40 years old) were the “seniors” in the class. I remember at one point that one young man in his early 20s said, “I now know what it means to be an adult.” I looked at my older classmate, and then broke the news to this young man: “You know, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to realize that I have no idea of what it means to be an adult. I feel more like a child than ever before because I have so many questions as I go through the lessons of life.”

    Just a few years later, my comments rang even truer when I was confronted with new challenges of having an aging parent as my mother, who had Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, started developing memory loss. And our family managed to just squeak under the wire by having Mom and Dad complete important end-of-life legal documents two years before Mom was diagnosed with full-blown Alzheimer’s in 2005. (She died in 2007.)

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    So now that I’m reaching a critical turning point  in life (menopause), I think it’s important to reevaluate what it means to be an “adult.”  A Houston Chronicle story about preparing for end-of-life issues made me realize that I (and probably many of this sharepost’s readers) need to take necessary steps to be prepared for another critical turning point – death. Here are some documents that you want to consider completing, based on your circumstances (and based on your state’s laws):

    • Will – This document addresses the basic estate planning. “It can specify property distribution to family, friends and organizations, as well as issues such as the guardian and property manager for dependent children, executor for managing an estate at death and how debts and taxes should be paid,” according to the Houston Chronicle print edition.
    • Revocable living trust - This is the most common estate planning trust. It “allows individuals to change its terms at any time as long as they’re mentally competent to do so,” the Houston Chronicle reported. “It lets people control the trust’s assets during their lifetimes and then shifts ownership of the property in the trust to a named trustee or trustees at death. It’s similar to a will, only upon death the trust property will not be processed through probate. Probate can add administrative and legal costs as well as delay the time it takes for property to transfer to the beneficiaries.”
    • Transfer or pay-on-death designation – Both of these designations avoid probate. The payable-on-death accounts allow for bank and/or credit union account funds to be automatically transferred to an identified beneficiary. The transfer-on-death designation lets a named survivor automatically receive stocks, and brokerage accounts.
    • Advanced directive – This document instructs medical providers about your decisions on life-prolonging treatments when you can no longer express such desires. A health-care power of attorney allows you to appoint an individual to make medical decisions for you if you become incapacitated (even if you are not near death).
    • Final arrangements – This document addresses your preferences for burial or cremation. It also gives your preferences for body and organ donations.

    One of my 2011 New Year’s resolutions is to complete these documents so I (along with family members and friends) can have peace of mind. I hope you’ll do the same.

Published On: February 08, 2011