Breaking the Chain on End-of-Life Unpreparedness

By Katy Flick

It often takes a tragedy to inspire action, and we witnessed that during the COVID-19 pandemic. One-third of U.S. adults (33%) report that the pandemic triggered conversations with close family members about their end-of-life plans and preferences. For 44.5 million Americans (18%), these were first-time discussions about important topics such as finances, health, and legal plans. These conversations, though sometimes difficult, are necessary to create better peace of mind for individuals and their families.

And yet there is still so much more work to be done to ensure end-of-life and legacy preferences are carried out.  As the SVP of Research at Age Wave, a recognized leader in aging, longevity, and retirement trends, I manage research studies on the profound business, social, financial, healthcare, workforce, and cultural implications of population aging. In one of our most recent investigations, Longevity and The New Journey of Retirement, we looked at the dreams, realities, and challenges of living well during our third age. Regrettably, two in five retirees do not have a will in place, and only one-quarter (28%) have all three essential legacy items in place (a will, a power of attorney, and an advance healthcare directive.) Most alarming is that among those retired 15+ years or more, only 32% have these legacy items arranged, one in three is missing a will, and less than half have a power of attorney or an advance healthcare directive.

Why do these things matter? Those who have experienced the aftermath of the death of a less-than-prepared loved one understand the additional anguish put upon an already grieving family. No one wants to place that burden on their family intentionally.

On the positive side, getting your affairs in order well in advance of a difficult or tragic situation can be beneficial for the legacy you leave behind. Later-stage retirees claim that they would most like to be remembered for their character and the experiences they shared with loved ones, not for creating havoc by not planning or being prepared in advance.

I remember speaking to my grandmother about her experience dealing with my grandfather’s death. She said it was a blessing to have everything she needed in one folder during such a dark period. He had made it part of his duty not to leave a mess behind to her, and it synced up with how we remembered him: a responsible, organized, thoughtful, and loving family man.

So, when preparing for end-of-life—either yours, a family member’s, or a client’s—you want to, at a minimum, have these three essential document:

  1. A will. A will provides the details on who will get ownership over your physical or financial assets.
  2. A durable financial power of attorney. Power of attorney designates a person to make financial decisions on your behalf if you become or are unable to do so.
  3. Advance care directive or living will. An advance healthcare directive outlines your medical preferences if you become unable to communicate them.

You will also want to ensure that important documents, account information, and passwords are accessible to trusted family members and that they know how to find them.

You never know what the future will bring, but you can take steps to prepare as best as possible. While it might not be pleasant to think about—or seem urgent right now—spending some time to make sure your affairs are in order could help drastically reduce the time and agony your family experiences managing the aftermath of your death. It is one impactful way to add to the legacy you leave your loved ones.

For additional resources on this topic and many more, visit