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6 Ways to Get Started on a Final Years Plan

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It could be said that the best preparation for tomorrow is to plan today. Understanding the value of planning for one's final years may be difficult. However, this process can potentially create a more peaceful and meaningful transition into the later years of life and lead to what Los Angeles undertaker and author Caitlin Doughty calls the "good death."

"For me, the good death includes being prepared to die, with my affairs in order, the good and bad messages delivered that need delivering . . . The good death means accepting death as inevitable, and not fighting it when the time comes. This is my good death, but as legendary psychotherapist Carl Jung said, 'It won't help to hear what I think about death.' Your relationship to mortality is your own." - Caitlin Doughty

Whatever a "good death" means to you, planning is key. In a survey conducted by Home Instead Inc., franchisor of the Home Instead Senior Care® network, 85 percent of North American seniors who've made plans for their final years agree that planning is a chance to decide how their life song ends.

"Having a plan in place lowers the pressure for families and alleviates some of the pain," said Bob Boetticher, Jr., market director for Dignity Memorial®, the largest provider of funeral, cremation and cemetery services in North America. "No matter how much planning you do, when death happens, it hurts. Everyone wants their voices to be heard. Making a plan allows a family to be closer and more cohesive throughout an individual's final years and days. In the end, a family will be able to celebrate a life."

The tendency is not to think things through, noted George Owens, managing director of Field Marketing and Customer Engagement for Dignity Memorial. "Left to our own devices, emotion can take over," Owens said. "The planning process can be a much calmer and more enjoyable process absent the mention of loss or impending cost."

The staff at Dignity Memorial and Home Instead Senior Care, through knowledge and experience, offer insight and tips on ways to approach planning for the final years. Some may find that incorporating a few of the following could lead to a more peaceful and organized planning process:

1. Consider personality and preferences. For many, aging at home is the ultimate goal. However a social person who ends up living alone in a large, empty house could become unhappy. There are a number of options for home care support. Contact Home Instead Senior Care for information about the type of services that can help maintain quality of life and keep individuals at home for as long as possible. There also are other innovative ways to remain in a neighborhood. Many communities are organizing as part of a "village movement" to provide services that enable seniors to stay at home.

Consider end-of-life preferences such as where you or someone you're caring for would want to spend the final days and the type of service that would best celebrate that life. Hospice services offer options for location and comfort care for the final days. And taking care of funeral service plans ahead of time will help ensure families can focus on the positive. Remember, when someone is unclear about preferences or leaves all the decisions to family, it may open the door to disagreements among adult children and other family members down the road. Being organized will help everyone involved.

2. Talk it out. Communicate with loved ones. What type of care is preferred and what legacy do you want a life to reflect? "A lot of times people - particularly adult children - don't want to talk, but these are conversations that need to be had," said Dignity Memorial's Boetticher. "This is a time for everyone to come together and share," Boetticher added."We always encourage a conversation with loved ones about their values and beliefs, and how they want to live, at home and independently or in a care community," said Harriet Warshaw, executive director of the Conversation Project, a website dedicated to helping families talk about their wishes for end-of-life care.

Conversation starter tips also can help open the door to important discussions.

3. Identify people who can help plan. Developing key relationships early on with individuals, companies and organizations will help provide peace of mind in knowing that all the bases are covered. Some key relationships to consider developing may be with attorneys, financial planners, insurance agents, home care companies and funeral homes.

4. Decide how to handle finances. Putting finances in order is a way to quell two underlying fears that most people have, according to the Conversation Project's Warshaw. "When we talk with people, they always have twin fears of being a burden to their loved ones, either financially or from a health and independence perspective. Talk with a financial planner about the type of care you would like. Pre-paying funeral services can help keep the focus on celebrating a life. Pre-planning and pre-paying are the right things to do," Dignity's Boettcher said. "Another benefit is that it locks in today's prices."

5. Complete a personal planning guide. Resources exist that may help individuals ensure they have the tools in place to plan important details of their final years. Dignity Memorial's Personal Planning Guide includes a place to enter important family information, service and memorialization preferences, organizations and people to contact, financial information and final arrangements. Also check out the 40-70 Rule Action Plan for Successful Aging for additional tips and resources.

6. Think about a bucket list and the individuals with whom you'd like to share those dreams. It's easy to get caught up in the practical aspects of planning, but don't forget about the fun! Adding a few "bucket list" goals into a final plan will help ensure you achieve those things in life that matter most. Whether it's riding in a hot air balloon or working in (or buying) the local coffee shop, don't put off those dreams that you want to fulfill while you still can.It's never too late, though, to realize a bucket list dream.

Be creative. One Home Instead CAREGiverSM tapped into videos of places her senior client wanted to visit but was unable to do so, bringing to life dream destinations for the elderly woman.

Take the first step and get started today. Planning will benefit all family members and make for a more beautiful life song. Check out the Compose Your Life SongSM music generator to help determine how prepared you or a loved one are for the final years.

Additional Resources:
Final Years Planning: Where to Find Assistance
The Risks of Not Planning for the Final Years
Compose Your Life SongSM Music Generator

Last revised: February 23, 2018

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