The Neglected Piece Of Retirement Planning

I write a lot about the importance of retirement and estate planning. It’s not hard to get people to acknowledge that it’s critical for everyone, especially those of us who have reached the second half of life. We need to ask hard questions about how we are going to support ourselves in our later years: Are we saving enough? Is our lifestyle sustainable for the long term? Who do we want making decisions for us if we are unable to do so? and who will get which of our assets when we die? Those are the most basic and universal considerations and there are countless smaller ones along the way. 

However, the one piece of planning that I find hardest to engage peoples’ attention to is death planning. Why plan, you might ask. I won’t care; I’ll be gone. Won’t someone else just step in and handle things? Yes, someone probably will, but how much decision making do you want that person to be saddled with? Or maybe even less appealing: how much of your remaining estate to you want to go to lawyers and/or the state? To avoid the latter consequence, you will need to do some advance planning. 

You may have already done the basics: a will (with a named executor), a trust, an advance directive for your care in your final days and a power of attorney to someone of your choosing to manage your finances if you become unable to do so. Some attorneys would tell you that with these documents in place you have done your job. File them away somewhere and forget about it. But you have left to chance a critical piece of planning by doing only the above. 

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A quick story: My father somehow knew he needed to do thorough death planning long before he anticipated the need, so when I was in my thirties, he sat me down and made me listen to all the plans he had made for his own eventual passing.  Of course, I didn’t want to listen and I tried to get away, but he won out and made me sit and listen to him tell me how to find his estate paperwork, his safe deposit box at the bank, and how to contact his lawyer. Then we got into the car and he drove me to the cemetery and showed me the plot he had reserved as well as the casket he had chosen. Was I freaked out? Yes, absolutely! But every time I talk to people about the importance of this act, I silently thank him for giving me the best possible gift when he did finally leave this world. When he died, it was sudden and I was devastated, but I knew exactly what to do and how to do it. I won the jackpot when it came to having a parent who was smart enough and went to the trouble to include this piece of the planning.

If you want to save your loved ones from having to make difficult decisions at the same time they are mourning your passing, you will need to take a few more steps, and some of these steps can be difficult and uncomfortable. Decide how you want your remains handled. Do you want to be buried in a cemetery somewhere near where you live? If that’s what you want, then visit the cemetery and choose a burial plot. Almost all cemeteries will let you pre-pay for your burial costs. They call it “pre-need” planning.  You can even pick out your casket style.  

Maybe you have decided on cremation or a “green burial.” You can choose one of these options and pre-pay it as well. The Neptune Society and the Trident Society are two of the ways you can handle a cremation plan.  They have both been around for many years and are very highly rated institutions, with flexible and reasonable payment plans. You can also choose to donate your remains to medical science through an organization like MedCure. Many people find body donation a way to create a lasting legacy and to give back to the medical community for efforts of their behalf. Medical research always needs these donations, so they cover all costs related to transportation, death certificates, and other costs related to ultimate cremation of the remains. 

One additional area of planning and preparation for this universal future event is having honest discussions with those who you anticipate leaving behind. Just as my father found it difficult to make me sit and listen to his instructions, you will no doubt find it difficult to talk to your loved ones as well, but think about the alternative. If you don’t discuss your plans with your spouse, your children, and anyone else named in your estate plan or your advance directive for care, they will be left trying to figure things out at a time when they are scared and emotionally crippled by your condition and your final passing. You cannot help them with the pain, but you can definitely spare them the confusion and potential fights that can ensue at a very difficult time.

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