Your Weekly Checkup: Preparing for Death

Dr. Zipes suggests some issues to consider so that your passing is as easy as possible for those who outlive you.

A fountain pen rests above a signature line of a will.

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“Your Weekly Checkup” is our online column by Dr. Douglas Zipes, an internationally acclaimed cardiologist, professor, author, inventor, and authority on pacing and electrophysiology. Dr. Zipes is also a contributor to The Saturday Evening Post print magazine. Subscribe to receive thoughtful articles, new fiction, health and wellness advice, and gems from our archive. 

Order Dr. Zipes’ new book, Damn the Naysayers: A Doctor’s Memoir.

Now that I’ve entered the third quarter of the game of life, I’ve often wondered how long I’ll live. It’s not a thought I considered during the first half. Since 1900, the average life expectancy around the globe has more than doubled, largely due to better public health, sanitation, and food supplies, and now approaches 80 years in most developed countries. Ten years ago, the oldest human being on the planet died at age 122. But is that a likely age for the rest of us? Probably not, yet more and more people are living to become centenarians. Genetic studies are analyzing how and why that happens, and ultimately we may be able to add years to our lives.

Regardless, it’s a given that we’re all going to die sometime, and most of us are unprepared for it. My wife and I came close three months ago in Muenster, Germany, when a suicide van plowed into the outdoor café where we were enjoying an afternoon beverage. Sitting two tables away from the van’s path and the human carnage it created made me realize how precious and fragile our lives are, and how one’s fate can turn on a dime. It’s important we not leave loved ones to grapple with residua of our messy lives, even as they wrestle with their own grief at our passing.

It may not be a pleasant topic, but here are some issues to consider so that your passing is as easy as possible for those who outlive you.

  • Buy a burial plot or make arrangements with a funeral home for cremation.
  • Make sure you and your significant other have up-to-date wills. Update names to recognize divorces, remarriages, additional children, etc.
  • Designate a power of attorney. A will is useful only after you die, but you should designate someone to exercise your power of attorney should you become incapacitated prior to death.
  • Consider a trust to shield income for the care and support of elderly or special-needs family members.
  • Decide how you want to handle your end-of-life care by writing a health care directive to be administered by your appointed power of attorney.
  • Give away, sell, or trash possessions you no longer want or use. Clean house now. Don’t leave your survivors with that burden.
  • Make sure your loved ones, especially the designated power of attorney, have access to your passwords, accounts, safe, and important papers. You should leave instructions in the cloud as well as in hard copy.
  • Decide how visible and public you want your illness and death, and how you want people to be notified. Some will opt for a social stage, while others want privacy.
  • Talk to your loves ones about your funeral. It may be a difficult conversation, granted, but there are many details, both religious and secular, to be decided: where/what to have; who to attend; who to deliver eulogies; type of music; prayer; and so forth.

Attending to these issues will help ensure you will rest in peace — or at least your loved ones will.

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  1. Thanks for this important information. It will serve as a guide for me.


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