Topics on Aging

By Juan Gallo

Navigating End-of-Life: Conversations and Essential Documents

June 27, 2023

Navigating End-of-Life: Conversations and Essential Documents

All of us will end up dying. Sometimes it’s a tragedy that takes us. Sometimes death happens “out of order” and parents bury their children. 

That happened to my parents when my sister died at age 32. 

That’s probably why my family has always been very open to having conversations about end-of-life wishes. 

When my mom was diagnosed with cancer after one year of remission, those important discussions had already taken place. My parents had paperwork that named me the one to make health decisions on my mom’s behalf. 

I remember my mom telling me, “If anything ever happens to me, here’s a key to my lockbox in the bank.”

My mom spent a long career in banking, so I think she was more probably in tune with those kinds of preparations than most people were.

When she went to the hospital unexpectedly, I knew where everything was. At that moment, I remember thinking, “Where did I put that key?” 

But I was able to bring the right paperwork to the hospital so I could sign off on treatments and care for my mom. We knew what she wanted after she died. 

The process was smooth for us. 

Both she and my sister were sick with potentially life-threatening illnesses. However, we didn’t know they were going to die when they did. 

We weren’t expecting it, but we had prepared.

Prepare for the Unexpected Now… Just in Case

What happens in a tragedy if decisions need to be made?

In our culture, we don’t talk about death enough. We prepare for things we look forward to — like college, a big move, a new baby or a different career. 

We are very reactive when it comes to planning for things we don’t want to think about. 

I think that should change. So here’s a quick list of safeguards we should all have in place. 

Life insurance 

Car insurance helps you fix or replace your car after a crash. You have it because the state of Florida requires it, of course. But also because you can’t afford to buy a whole new car all of a sudden. 

Life insurance works the same way. If your family wouldn’t be able to pay the mortgage or bills without your income, you need life insurance. 

You need life insurance even if your family wouldn’t be able to replace the time you contribute to childcare or running the house. Life insurance also pays for funeral expenses, which are more expensive than you think, even if you don’t care how you’re buried. 

Estate Planning 

In my last blog, I recommended having conversations with your family or friends about your end-of-life wishes. However, it’s important to make sure those wishes have legal backing through estate planning.

Estate planning isn’t just for the rich. It’s for people with kids, people who have invested their money into a house, or anyone with money in a bank account. 

If you don’t want the government to decide what happens to the things you’ve worked hard for, you should have some documents to ensure your wishes. 

I asked local estate planning attorney Andrew Rosenberg for his recommendations of some basic documents. You probably have heard of most of these but maybe don’t know exactly what they do. 

First, a Will outlines what should happen to your property, money and assets after you die. It’s also the document that names guardians for minor children. 

Next, you should decide now who you trust to make decisions on your behalf, in case you’re unable, due to a sudden accident or a health condition like dementia. 

A Durable Power of Attorney authorizes someone you chose to make financial decisions. 

A Healthcare Surrogate is similar, but designates someone to make health decisions for you. One person can fill both roles, but in Florida you need both documents. 

Finally, a Living Will explains if and when you no longer want your life artificially prolonged. This comes into play if you have a terminal condition, an end-stage condition or end up in a “persistent vegetative state.” This document legally answers the end-of-life questions I posed in my last blog. 

Trusts and Bequest Giving

Beyond declaring your wishes in a will, a Trust can ensure assets or funds go to specific loved ones or organizations without the considerable time and cost of a probate court. 

Trusts give you more flexibility and can be set up to pass assets before you die or even if you become incapacitated. Trusts also can benefit an organization or cause over the long term, by bequesting the profits from the invested funds rather than a one-time gift. 

Everyone’s situation is different, so you’ll want to consult an estate planning lawyer for specific advice. Andrew Rosenberg offers free consultations at 954-466-0620. Or you could sign up for more advice from him and other local experts at Life Planning Checklist.

The most important step is to begin planning now. Have the conversation with your loved ones. Get the right documents prepared. 

Unfortunately, none of us know how much time we have in this world. Planning now will avoid more complications for your loved ones later. 

This blog includes sponsored links. 

Read more about:
Juan Gallo
Juan Gallo is the CEO of Heart2Heart Outreach, where he oversees the mobilization of volunteers to provide hope, share love and restore purpose to the lives of the aging population across South Florida.

He also serves as a local pastor and as an adjunct professor at Trinity International University, where he is teaching a course on diversity and aging. Juan has a master’s degree in counseling and psychology and is a licensed mental health counselor intern.

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Juan Gallo

This blog is a frank conversation about what it means to age in our society.

I want us to consider what a wider range of diverse experiences when we talk about aging. I want to reflect on how we, as a community, want our neighbors and our mothers and fathers and our grandparents to live out their latter decades of life. I want us to consider each one of their voices as we strive to meet their needs.

Join me for weekly discussions about what it means to be a senior in South Florida and how we can and should respond to the growing needs of the aging population.

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