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Death and Taxes

by Joan Bachman
Neither Death nor Taxes hits a “favorite” list, but the more familiar we are with our own thoughts on each of them, the better prepared we are to lessen pain and regret for ourselves and our families later in life. We each have opportunity to make decisions about how we live our life and manage our finances and assets, no matter our personal set of resources or circumstances. The decisions we make are subject to change, but it is important that we act on them and make written documentation of the more important decisions. The decisions we document today may have a significant effect for us and our families in the last weeks of life.

I recently called a distant long-ago friend to catch up and make arrangements for a personal visit. As we compared our life journeys she sprang a question on me “Have you written your obituary yet?” Well, I had made some mental notes and talked to the kids about what is or could be, but I had not written my obituary (and have not yet done). However, it didn’t take long before I made preliminary arrangements and paid for my funeral. (I did tell the Funeral Director I’d see him in about 20 years.) My Will, Health Care Directive, and Power of Attorney for Health Care had been in place for some time. I have no desire to have my body kept alive if the ME isn’t there. My salvageable organs should be available for donation. My Financial Planner has made suggestions to limit negative tax implications for my heirs. For me, a well-defined belief system clarifies the process and helps me to follow through to discuss and share personal wishes with my family.

Aside from legal documents, my ‘end of life decisions’ include a plan to live in and maintain this house until I’m at least 90. That means that I keep going up and down steps, don’t eat ice cream EVERY night, spend my money wisely, nurture my friendships, remain invested in the community, and so on. I’ll hire help as needed for upkeep and personal needs for as long as it is possible to remain here. My family will have no obligation for my well-being, in the same way I had no obligation for the well-being of my parents. (decisions resulting from family conversations before I left home after high school and with my family recently.) Continued family participation and assistance were and are a given.

As family members and /or caregivers, whether paid or unpaid, we are in a position to open discussion regarding end-of-life decisions. For many years, Medicare has required certified facilities to request a copy of the patient’s Living Will or Advance Directive. Whether the response is positive or negative, this gives an opportunity to begin the conversation in regard to end-of-life issues, often starting with questions about CPR or not, artificial means of sustaining life, and such matters. Most people have an idea in their head of what they want even if they have never verbalized those ideas. Some individuals are very uncomfortable talking about death and may have never dared to ask questions or request information. Suggesting input from a spiritual leader may be a very necessary resource referral for these conversations.

Unfortunately, the American Health Machine has developed the ultimate voracious consumer of any well-advertised health-related product. Clients clamor for products and services that promise good looks, freedom from pain, serenity, agility, acceptance, and happiness, almost life ever after, with not one change in the consumer’s life style. The industry actively responds to this consumer appetite to satisfy demands. Prime-time advertising adds fuel to the frenzy. There may be positive results for the clients, but the goal of corporate profit probably fares the most consistently.

So, the point of this writing is to encourage each reader to approach your own exit from this world with emotional comfort so that you can assist those for whom you may be responsible to look beyond the present and make informed decisions. I have watched families agonize over questions of keeping someone alive or not. I have watched families torn apart over distribution of assets (or unpaid bills). These family torments could be largely avoided with family discussions and documented decisions when everyone is healthy and happy.

An end-of-life conversation can be led gently: (Yours is to LISTEN – and answer questions)
Have you considered where and how you want to live if you are no longer independent?
How do you feel about life-saving interventions if your health really fails?
Have you made financial plans for your living and care expenses?

Your State’s website should give you access to legal guidance to develop individual Advance Directives and Power of Attorney for Health Care. There is likely also guidance for developing a Will to define allocation of personal assets. The documents must be completed while the named person has the mental capacity to make personal decisions. Depending on the circumstances, assistance from a lawyer may be preferred. With these documents in place and contents known by family and health care providers, the client’s wishes should be carried out with minimal family drama.

After the initial discomfort of opening discussions of Death and Taxes, you and your family or clients and their families can feel the emotional peace brought about by informed conversation and understanding.

About the Author

Joan Bachman

Joan Bachman is a Registered Nurse, Licensed Nursing Home Administrator, Registered Health Information Technician, and Faith Community Nurse. She earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration. Joan has experience as a Nurse, Administrator, Developer, Trainer, Grant Writer, and served as Administrator of SD State Survey Agency. She has consulted with health care facilities and nonprofit organizations and presented leadership training. Joan is the author of Guidebook for Assisted Living Facilities and Senior Service Providers and Guidebook for Physician Services in the Nursing Facility, and she has published in professional journals.


Pagyn Harding

This winter, my husband and I both wrote our obituaries <-- not easy to do, but we knew our kids would not have a clue what colleges we went to and when we got married. We both talked about the new hobbies & challenges we are embarking on, such painting or publishing a book of poems. All in all, writing our obituaries gave us the peace of mind that the kids won't have to worry about this task.

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