When thinking about planning, I typically see a maze of legal twists and turns, forms to complete, conversations to conduct — an obstacle course with no finish line. But if I “de-construct” planning, it becomes more doable and less overwhelming. Here’s how I approach it:
Advance Care Planning
I start with my advance care directive comprising my living will and health care power of attorney (POA) or proxy. These inform my loved ones and medical professionals how I wish to be treated if I have a life threatening illness or accident. The health care POA designates who should make health care decisions for me should I lack capacity to do so. Also included are a list of my doctors, prescription medicines, and other medical information.
Of course, none of these documents are really operational without a conversation with those to whom I entrust my care. Advance care planning can extend to care-giving, whether provided by loved ones or hired aides. I also include a “dementia-directive”* which sets out my preferred levels of care should I lack capacity to make health care decisions for myself.
This portion of the planning process addresses distribution of my assets, be they real, personal, and/or accounts with financial institutions. These include my will or estate plan, or both. Crucial to completing this phase of the process is – again – a conversation with my loved ones about the terms of any asset distribution, who is my will’s executor, and where to find a signed copy of my will.
End of Life Planning
How I wish to die is critical information for family members and my medical professionals. Writing out those instructions is only half the task. Talking about my death, is key to my loved ones’ understanding my final wishes. In addition, I may decide to transmit in writing my ethical or spiritual values, write my obituary, and design my funeral or memorial service. Handling these tasks myself will save my family possibly agonizing moments as they try to divine how I’d like to be remembered. Now that Death with Dignity (aka physician-assisted suicide) is gaining support, I will prescribe under what conditions I would prefer this mode of dying. **
Digital Legacy Planning
This element refers to whether and how I want to preserve or eliminate my digital presence. The larger my digital “footprint,” the larger my digital presence. How do I “get off of” Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, etc.? Or do I want to remain there in perpetuity? (One shocking statistic suggests that in 100 years, there will be billion dead people on Facebook). What about my passwords, photos, emails, texts, business information that live on after I pass on? Those, too, are part of this process.
Planning doesn’t have to be onerous if we approach it as a step-by-step process.
*A dementia directive states how much medical care I would want if I had Alzheimer’s Disease or another form of dementia. See: www.dementia-directive.org.
**Nine jurisdictions, including mine, the District of Columbia, permit physician-assisted suicide. California, Colorado, District of Columbia, Maine, Hawaii, New Jersey. Oregon, Vermont, and Washington.