How to make plans for your final wishes

Mature couple exercises in nature
How to make plans for your final wishes

How do you want to be remembered? It’s a big question but one well worth considering.

We recently polled Canadians and found that 82% believe that regardless of age, everyone should let their family know what their final wishes are. At the same time, only 36% are certain that someone in their family is aware of their final wishes and how to deal with their personal finances.

That’s not a big surprise, since half of Canadians find themselves without the proper paperwork to even entertain these kinds of arrangements (namely, a will). The reasons why can vary. Some people may think they’re too young, or they don’t own any ‘big’ assets that may need to be considered when they happen to pass away.

And funeral plans and final expenses are subjects many of us put off discussing, since death is still a much-avoided subject in the Western world (despite it being the one thing every person has in common).

Planning your final wishes may not be high on your to-do list – but being prepared and having clear-cut plans in place can help you gain confidence and peace of mind.

Figuring out your final wishes

Final wishes, including your funeral plans, can be elaborate or humble. Deciding on how you want your life celebrated and the type of legacy you leave behind can play an important part in helping you (and your loved ones) live life more fully.

But how do you do that? Advance care and end-of-life planning are practices that encourage folks at any age and stage of life to visualize and vocalize their wishes for what they want to happen when they die. Very importantly, these plans put mechanisms for decision-making into place should someone no longer be capable of speaking for themselves at a certain point.

Grief counsellors and other practitioners who have expertise around this kind of planning – death doulas, for example – can assist people in articulating their final wishes, allowing time for prioritization and organization before something unexpected occurs, including when someone becomes unable to voice their hopes and needs.

Just what is a death doula?

You may be familiar with the concept of a doula when it comes to childbirth, but the death doula is “a fairly new movement,” according to Julie Cryns, who offers grief counselling and end-of-life doula services in Ontario.

Of course, many cultures over time have had people who served in the role of helping a family through the death of a loved one. Yet in recent decades, as death “became more medicalized” and human life continued to be prolonged by scientific advancements, the process of death – and discussions around it – have become more siloed.

“You can't control the fact that you're going to die one day,” Julie says. “But you can control, to a certain extent, what you would like to happen to your body and your possessions.”

She notes that while death doulas aren’t medical professionals, funeral planners, or legal counsel, they can act as information resources and advocates, especially at times when emotion and grief might make planning for things like healthcare decisions and final expenses particularly overwhelming.

“You don't know what you don't know until you're in it,” Julie adds. “And you suddenly realize, oh, I don't know where to start.”

When should you begin making plans for your death?

Just as you create a budget for important purchases and occasions like weddings and anniversaries, approaching death with the same attention is crucial. Julie says that “tomorrow” is a good day to start thinking about final wishes – but “final” is thankfully a relative term if you give yourself enough of a lead.

Maybe you’ll have kids one day or decide that you won’t – either of these options come with considerations around death planning. When it comes to an advance care plan or end-of-life file, “the great thing is that it can be changed at any time,” she notes. “It's like a working document.”

Stay open (and organized)

There are “a lot of moving parts” to death, from liaising with a healthcare team to paying for funeral, burial or cremation costs, Julie says.

Here’s where organization is key. That includes ensuring that personal records and insurance policies are readily available for those who need them. “Nobody wants to be faced with a filing cabinet with 15,000 files in there,” Julie says. She adds that there are now journal-style books on the market like I'm Dead, Now What? Important Information about My Belongings, Business Affairs, and Wishes that help alleviate the daunting task of getting important information in one place.

Once you’ve got these details down, “don't hide them,” she says. Make sure the people you love and trust – from family members to your Power of Attorney – can access your documents and put your plans into action. A little bit of tidying now can take away the burden of decision-making later.

In the case of final expenses insurance, choosing and advising a beneficiary (or beneficiaries) is also an important step towards making sure your final wishes are known.

Get creative with your legacy

Of course, death involves more than just financial planning. In addition to working with people to try and resolve relationship issues before they pass, Julie says legacy work can be another aspect of the death doula role. Leaving something behind for loved ones and our community comes in many different forms.

“A lot of people's biggest fear is that they'll be forgotten,” she says. “I've done art projects and storyboards with people – whatever they want to do. I never have an agenda; it’s more about, how can I help them to create something because they don’t want to be forgotten.”

She also says that many of us don’t think of the more intimate elements of our lives when it comes to planning for death, such as having a recording of our voice that loved ones can treasure after we’re gone.

“[My practice] is about reimagining the death and the dying process,” she says. “It's always going to be frightening, but we can minimize the fear by helping them with some level of understanding and comfort.”

Planning for your final wishes can be a smart thing to do. Find out how North Cover Final Expenses Insurance can help.