The End of Life Matters initiative encourages everyone, regardless of age or health, to take simple steps to make their end of life experience better; for themselves and for their family and friends.
For many bereaved people, grief can become prolonged and even worsened when the end of life wishes of their family and friends aren't known, or where financial difficulties are caused by there being no Will in place.
Planning for the end of your life is often thought of as being one of those things that can always be done later, because it simply isn't something that most people like to think about.
Most people live long and healthy lives and are able to anticipate their death - be it from old-age, or terminal illness - in a way which allows them to look towards their death and be able to plan for it. However, death can also be unexpected, which denies someone the chance to plan for the end of their life.
Having a plan for what you want to happen at the end of your life is empowering - you are taking control of your legacy. It can also give you peace of mind, knowing that your family and friends will be able to make decisions of you are no longer able to, safe in the knowledge that they are following your wishes.
It isn't just about medical decisions at the end of your life. It's important to have plans for what happens after you die. Would you prefer to be buried or cremated? Do you have a Will? If you already have a Will does it still represent your wishes? Do your loved ones know what you want your funeral to be like? Would they know where to find all of your important documents? Having plans in place for after you die not only ensures that your wishes will be carried out, but also makes things easier for your family and friends, in what will be a very difficult time for them.
Talking about dying may not always be easy, but it can help you make the most of life and support those you care about.
Even if you've already made plans for the end of your life, you may still find it beneficial to talk about your choices with your family and friends. By sitting down and discussing things you can explain your decisions and ensure that they understand what you want to happen and why. You may have strong beliefs about medical treatments. Perhaps one of your children would prefer not to be one of the Executors, or maybe you have special wishes about your funeral. Being able to talk about these things can help identify any issues and allow you to discuss them.
Although starting this conversation may be a difficult and unpleasant idea, it may help to think of it another way. It's also a chance for you to find out what your family and friends would like to happen at the end of their lives. How would you feel if you didn't have this conversation and your family and friends find;t know whether you'd prefer to die at home or in hospital, or whether you wanted to donate your organs, what kind of funeral you would like, or whether you would prefer to be buried or cremated.
Once the conversation has started, there is no real plan for how it should go. Some people prefer to work through a set of questions, others will prefer to just talk and see where it goes. You don; have to settle everything at once but introducing the idea and starting the discussion is the most important part.
There are no rules. You can make the discussions serious or lighthearted, you can have a one-on-one discussion or do it in a group. You can meet at home, or in a cafe. Different people prefer different things and only you will know the best way for you and your friends or family. The important thing is to start the conversation.
There are many things to consider when planning for the end of your life, including:
- Is there anything you would like to do before you die?
- What kind of treatments do you want or not want towards the end of your life?
- Would you like to donate your organs?
- Where would you prefer to be when you die?
- Who will care for your children after you die?
- Who will care for your pets after you die?
- Have you written your Will?
- If you already have a Will, is it still accurate and does it still reflect your wishes?
- Where would you like your funeral to be held? Who would you like to read your eulogy?
- Do your family and friends know where to find all of your important paperwork?
Put your plan in place
There are two main areas to consider when planning for the end of your life.
Firstly, you should consider how you would prefer to die. This area relates to medical decisions such as the treatments you may want or not want, where you would prefer to be, who you would like to be around you, and many other things that may be important to you.
The second area of planning is to consider what happens after you die. You should have a Will to make sure that your estate and everything you've worked so hard for is passed down to the person or people you want it to be. You should also have a plan for your funeral so that you are in control of your legacy and have a say in how people will remember you.
Planning your end of life care
All of your thoughts and preferences around the medical care you would like towards the end of your life is called Advance Care Planning.
You can draw up a legal document called a Living Will or an Advance Directive to formally state what types of medical treatment you do not want, in case you are unable to communicate your wishes at the time.
By having a plan for your medical preferences you can make sure that your family and medical professionals are aware of your choices and, should you be unconscious, sedated, or suffering from dementia, can make decisions on your behalf:
- Would you prefer to spend your final days at home, rather than in hospital or hospice?
- Would you prefer to be alone or surrounded by family or friends? Is there anyone in particular that you would want (or perhaps wouldn't want) to be there?
- You may prefer to forego invasive or aggressive treatments.
- What are your preferences around resuscitation and life support?
- Would you like to donate your organs?
On the Isle of Man, even if you have already registered to be an organ donor through your Isle of Man driving licence, you still need to register as a donor with the NHS as well. You can register on the NHS organ donation database on their website, which also has details on how to register by post or by phone.
Planning your will
Many people believe they are too young to write a Will or that it's too expensive or they don't have enough money or other assets to make writing a Will worthwhile. Dying without a Will can make what is already a difficult time a lot harder for your family. By writing a Will, you have the peace of mind that you have left your family and friends clear instructions on your wishes, from who will receive specific items to the kind of funeral you would like.
If you die without leaving a Will, it is the law that decides how to share out any money or property you leave behind (your 'estate'). Without a Will, your spouse or partner does not necessarily receive all your estate when you die. Making a Will is the only legal way to make sure your wishes are known.
In the Will, some of the many things you can do are:
- Appoint a guardian to care for your children if they are orphaned.
- Tell your family and friends whether you would like to be buried or cremated.
- Make sure your children inherit from you even if your husband or wife re-marries.
- Provide for a disabled person in a way that will protect their benefits and will not put them at risk from those who might take advantage of them.
- Provide for an unmarried partner and enable them to stay in your house.
- Leave a legacy to loved one or a charity of your choice.
- Avoid disputes between your family and friends.
Writing your Will
There are a number of ways you can write your Will. You can write it yourself, or there are online services that can assist you. However, given the importance of the document, you may prefer to approach an advocate to help you write your Will. Having a professional prepare your Will gives you the comfort that the document is valid and that your estate can be distributed as you want it to be.
Updating your Will
It is important for you to review your Will every few years to make sure it still reflects your wishes. There are many reasons for you to update your Will, including:
- Getting married, separated or divorced
- Having a child
- Moving house
- Changing the beneficiaries or Executors
There are two ways to update your Will:
- Straightforward changes such as adding or removing an Executor or making a small change to a single section of the Will can be done by using a codicil, which is a separate document that updates specific parts of the existing Will.
- More substantial changes to your Will, such as changing the beneficiary, or if you want to make a number of smaller changes to your Will, can be done by creating a brand new Will to replace the existing one.
Planning your funeral
Having a plan in place for your funeral lets you define how you will be remembered. It's your funeral and it's important that you have a say in how it will be. It's your last chance to say goodbye to your family and friends, and it is only right that you are able to do it in the way you would like to.
For your family, knowing the details of how you wanted your funeral to run not only makes it easier for them to arrange during what will be a busy, emotional and upsetting time, but it lets them know that the memorial service you wanted can actually take place. It also allows you to consider the cost involved to have the funeral you would like.
By considering as many factors as possible, you'll ensure that your family will be able to plan the service that you both want and deserve. Some of the things you may want to consider include:
- Do you want to be buried or cremated?
- Where do you want to be buried or cremated?
- Where would you like your funeral to be held?
- Who would you like to officiate the service?
- Is there anything in particular you would like mentioned in your eulogy?
- Who would you like to read the eulogy?
- Are there any particular readings or music you would like?
- Would you prefer people to make donations to a charity instead of sending flowers?
- Is there anything that you don't want to happen?
Knowing that you have plans in place, that you have discussed your preferences with your family and friends, and that you have a written record of them, will give you the peace of mind that you are in control of your legacy. Not only will you be remembered as you would like to be, but you will know that you have made things that little bit easier for your family and friends once you have gone.
Most people are fortunate to live long lives and may have time later in life to make their arrangements. However, death can also be unexpected, which can deny many people the chance to discuss and plan for the end of their life. This is why planning for the end of your life applies to everyone, regardless of age or health.