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End of Life Discussions

June 23, 2020
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In a topic that’s generally avoided at all costs by most people, my wife and I had a very deep discussion about our own end of life preferences a few weeks ago. For us, it’s never been uncomfortable to discuss this topic, but I think it’s uncomfortable for many. As an oncologist, my wife fortunately and unfortunately gets to be a part of many end of life conversations. In her experience, a good death can be such a grand experience by all those around. It’s a great celebration of the family, and it caps a legacy in a way that nothing else can. I asked her if she’d had any patients live a good life, have a good death, and have their finances organized and packaged, ready for the next generation. Rarely was her response. Why such a low figure?

Finances play such an important role in our overall health. Organized and well-thought finances allow us to eat when we need to eat, play when we want to play, and it ultimately allows a platform for connections to our family and loved ones. It’s not that we purchase relationships, but a well-planned financial situation allows assets to be enjoyed with others. A living space is a good example. It’s not impossible to spend time with people outside of a living space, but a home-base – such as a house, apartment, etc. – provides that central nesting place for time spent with others. I totally subscribe to the old adage of “the best things in life are free,” but an established financial plan can make the best things better.

Experiencing a good death begins well before someone dies, potentially decades before. It begins when last wishes, gifts, and healthcare decisions are shared with those who will be impacted. Sharing this information helps transfer the responsibility of the decisions to the person dying, not the survivors. There are some heavy decisions that need to be made while someone is dying, and those decisions are always clouded in emotion with time constraints attached. My fear is that my family might “pull the plug” and feel guilty for the rest of their lives. I hope the conversations we’ve had and will have in the future might prevent any guilt or perceived responsibility when I die.

I’m, by no means, a death expert, but I do know finances make up a portion of life and happiness. Well-run finances can soothe some stress and offer more choices in life. It’s not just a wealthy person who can make good personal financial decisions. In a time of such worldwide stress, simple conversations are the most meaningful. Take the burden off your loved ones, and start a tough conversation.