Carole Carson: Planning for the inevitable — five topics to address |

Carole Carson: Planning for the inevitable — five topics to address

Carole Carson
photo by Elias Funez/

Two recent events — the sudden death of a close friend and an unexpected diagnosis of lung clots — served as a wakeup call. (I’ve recovered from the blood clots, but a broken heart takes longer.)

The back-to-back events shattered the delusion that I would be forever young. Old age had always been in the distant future, and my demise wasn’t even on the horizon.

Demolished Illusions

But once reality smacked me in the head, I faced the unenviable task of planning for the final period of my life. Admittedly, this was not the happiest of activities.

Yet I knew that if I failed to think about the future even in the present moment, others would be forced to make the decisions for me. And their choices might not reflect my wishes.

Key Questions in 5 Areas

As part of the planning process, I asked myself questions about five areas of concern.

1. Living arrangements: Where do I want to live? If I age in place, can I afford to hire care if needed? Can I afford help to do home maintenance tasks that I can no longer do? Could I still live here if I could no longer drive?

If my spouse became disabled, is it possible to modify our living quarters? Can I afford the taxes and insurance?

If I decided to move, where would I go? Are there any relatives (siblings, offspring, grandchildren) I would like to live near? Would I rent, buy a townhouse, live in a single-family home, or join a senior residence?

2. Financial arrangements: How long do my savings need to last? If my spouse or I had a medical emergency, could I pay for it? What if long-term care was needed?

If our home required major repairs, could I cover the cost? How much income do I need based on our current expenditures for leisure activities, travel, hobbies, gifts, and donations? Do I need to reduce our monthly expenses? If so, what discretionary spending could I cut?

Do I want to leave money to family members or to a charity? If so, how much? Do I want to make a charitable donation while now while I’m still alive or make arrangements in my will? Do I have a will? Is it current? Do I have an executor?

3. Health maintenance and medical arrangements: Am I taking care of myself? Getting all the required vaccinations, eating appropriately, and exercising regularly? Am I taking medications the way I should? Am I getting required screenings? Am I keeping my mind nimble by continuing to learn? Am I staying connected to friends and family?

Do I want my life extended by any and all means, or do I simply require that I be kept comfortable? Is my medical directive filled out with a copy in my doctor’s office at the local hospital and easily accessible at home?

4. Spiritual care: Are there any individuals who I would like to acknowledge for their special contribution or apologize to or ask forgiveness from? Have I come to terms with my strengths and regrets? Is there anything on my bucket list?

Have I found meaning and purpose in my life? Am I ready to let go when my time comes? Have I addressed my thoughts about the infinite? Do I want to talk to a spiritual advisor, retreat into nature, or read and reflect?

5. Final arrangements: Do I want a funeral or a celebration of life? Do I want to be cremated? If so, should I prepay so that no one is burdened with the expense? Do I want to be buried? If so, where? Should I buy a plot so everything is ready?

Does the executor of my will know where all critical documents are stored? Is there a password directory in my office so someone can close down my presence on the internet? Are there any personal notes, diaries, or computer files that should be destroyed?

Have I made arrangements for the distribution of personal property to those for whom it might have sentimental value? Should I make this distribution now while I have my wits about me? Who would I want around me in my final moments?

I used my answers to these questions to come up with a to-do list. When I completed the list, I wasn’t depressed. Just the opposite, oddly enough. I had a sense of confidence and personal power that arose, I think, from taking charge of my affairs while I still could.

No Guarantees

Even with a plan, though, no one can guarantee that I will achieve the end of life I want. Still, as the well-known psychiatrist Dr. Leon Tec says, “A sailor without a destination cannot hope for a favorable wind.”

Whatever the outcome, you and I can take comfort in knowing that once we’ve finished the hard work of preparation, we’ve improved the odds of living our end days well.

Carole Carson, Nevada City, is an author, former AARP website contributor, and leader of the 1994 Nevada County Meltdown. Contact:

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