Psychology / Preparing For Death While Embracing Life

Preparing For Death While Embracing Life

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Autor:  anton  27 September 2010
Tags:  Preparing,  Embracing
Words: 3141   |   Pages: 13
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The process of dying begins at birth. Each of us know that someday we will die, but we don't generally like to think or talk about it. The topic of death is often taboo in our society. Because of this, we are often unprepared when we are faced with the final stages of the dying process with someone we love.

Attitudes and concepts about death and dying vary greatly. Death refers to the actual physical ending of life, while dying refers to the process of coming to that end. Most people do not simply stop breathing. It is often a slow, lingering, unwinding process that can take days, weeks, or months. Even the actively dying process can occur over a period of hours or days. Observing this process can be extremely difficult for loved ones.

Some people experience the symptoms of being close to death and then, for some unexplained reason their condition may begin to improve a little. The family's hopes soar, only to be dashed again, as the loved one's condition deteriorates. These roller-coaster changes can be emotionally and physically exhausting for caregivers.

Most of the fear of death is really fear of the unknown. Education and open discussion about the events that will occur can relieve much of the fear patients and families experience. Each death is different, a touching and special drama, just as each birth is. And usually the act of dying requires some assistance, just as the act of giving birth does.

Because each person's death is unique, it is difficult to state exactly what will happen in each situation. This particular period of time is one of the most difficult times you and your family will experience.

Some people believe that preparing for a death is the most difficult part of losing a loved one. Friends and family members may feel helpless as their loved one comes closer to death. Fear of the inevitable, sorrow, and anticipating the grief to come are common and can be completely exhausting.

Many people who have a serious illness may anticipate their own passing and experience a range of emotions as well. A grief counselor can help an ill person work to resolve issues and, perhaps, achieve a level of peace with the inevitable.

On a more practical note, there are issues that can be resolved during the period of physical decline that may lead to greater peace of mind. The person's will should be drawn up or updated and any other personal matters organized.

While the questions may sound morbid, they are decisions that will have to be made eventually. Knowing the preferences of the deceased may make preparing for the memorial service easier for surviving family members and friends. In addition, the person should discuss what he or she desires for his or her funeral and burial service with his family to ensure all are comfortable with the person's wishes.


A guardian is a person who can make legal, financial, and health care decisions for you if you become incapacitated or incompetent and can no longer make these decisions for yourself. A guardian can be any competent person, a spouse, a friend, a relative, a non-profit agency, or a public or private corporation. If a person is considered incompetent and a relative, agency, or corporation cannot be found or considered as a guardian, then a public agent guardian will be appointed.

Guardianship is referred to, in some states, as custodianship or curatorship. In each case the guardian may be called a custodian or curator. The person whom the guardian is appointed to is called the “ward”.

Guardians have the authority to:

Ш Decide on the ward's living arrangements

Ш See that good health care is provided to the ward

Ш Give consent or approval of needed services (medical, dental, legal, etc.) for the ward

Ш Take care of the ward's personal belongings

Ш Take legal protective action of the ward

Ш Handle the ward's personal finances

Ш Maintain the ward's personal records

There are two types of guardianship:

Ш Guardianship of the Person -- The guardian may provide for medical care services and determine the place and kind of residential setting best suited for the ward. The guardian must also present a detailed plan of the ward's care to the court every year for review.

Ш Guardianship of the Property -- The guardian takes an inventory of the ward's property, invests it prudently, uses it for the ward's support, and accounts for it by providing detailed annual reports with the court. In addition, the guardian must obtain court approval for certain financial transactions.

In most cases one guardian is appointed to cover all responsibilities -- both the ward's property and health care.

If you chose to elect a guardian, either of the person or property or both, you may order it for limited time periods and for limited purposes. This is generally only the case for individuals who request a guardian while they are still competent. Most often guardianship is the last resort for people who are incompetent and can no longer do things for themselves. In these cases, guardianship is in place for the remainder of the ward's life.

If you recover or your condition is not permanent, your case will be reviewed by the court to make sure that you are fit enough to handle your own affairs. In this case, you may be able to regain control over some or all of the decisions surrounding your finances, health care, and other aspects of daily living.

Because guardianship is so limited, you should always consider it as a last resort. However, if you haven't made plans to safeguard your finances, health care, or legal issues and you become incapacitated, guardianship is one of the few alternatives to ensure your well being. Some community groups and local hospitals provide support and offer help with medical care or financial management, or make referrals to other places that can help.

Living Wills

Living wills, sometimes called Advanced Directives, are legal documents accepted in all 50 states. They clearly define your beliefs and wishes regarding the type of treatment you would prefer if you were to become terminally ill or if death were imminent and you were not able to communicate your wishes yourself. Living wills help the physician and the family maintain the patient's wishes when he/she is unable to speak for him/herself. Most hospitals and in-patient facilities now provide a living will or advanced directive form upon admission, but this does not mean that you should wait until that time to think about and plan for your future health care needs.

Limitations to the Power of a Living Will

Remember that living wills only become active when the patient becomes terminally ill - when death is imminent and the patient can no longer communicate his/her wishes to their physician, spouse, or family. Living wills do not become active immediately after you sign them.

Many doctors are not yet comfortable with the idea of living wills so they may be hesitant to encourage their patients to consider the alternative options and issues surrounding living wills and health care choices. In about 25 percent of all cases, decisions are made - by family or physician - that are contrary to the patient's wishes as stated in their living will.

Living wills, once activated, should ensure that your health care treatment beliefs and wishes are upheld by your physician and the medical facility. They cannot be revoked by your family or your physician; your living will can only be revoked orally by you or by a court acting on your behalf. With a living will, you maintain control over your end-of-life decisions. If your wishes are explicitly stated in your living will, your doctor and your family should not be able to supersede them. As long as your wishes are known, they should be respected.

Often in crisis situations, families are asked to make decisions about your health care when you are not able to voice your own decision. Most people do not carry their living will around with them. Families try to do what they feel is right, but if they do not know what your wishes are, they can not voice them to the health care professionals who are caring for you. You should discuss your living will with your family and physician several times to ensure they know and understand your wishes. Their understanding of the reason for your decisions may help them fulfill your wishes.

Power of Attorney

A Power of Attorney is a signed and notarized legal document that gives another person legal authority to act on your behalf. Your Power of Attorney can make decisions involving your finances or healthcare when you are no longer able to make those decisions on your own. There are different types of Powers of Attorney including durable, financial and healthcare.

The person giving the Power of Attorney is sometimes called the "Principal". The person authorized to act by the Principal is sometimes called the "attorney-in-fact." However, the attorney-in-fact is not actually an attorney.

There are many ways to assign someone to make decisions for you with a Power of Attorney document. You can assign a:

Ш General Power of Attorney that covers all of your financial and personal decisions.

Ш Limited Power of Attorney that only covers decision-making in areas that you specify.

Ш Durable Power of Attorney, meaning that it stays in effect if you become incompetent.

Ш Springing Power of Attorney, meaning that it comes into effect only when you become incompetent.

Ш Durable Health Care Power of Attorney, who is a person to make health care decisions for you.


A Will is a written, legal document through which you can distribute your assets and property and name a guardian for your children (under 18) after your death. Through a Will you can name people as beneficiaries - people who will inherit your property. You can distribute your property among your beneficiaries any way you like. Your Will must be signed by you and at least two witnesses (in some states three witnesses are required). A Will is not permanent once you've signed it--you can change it at any time.

You should also name an executor in your Will. The executor will ensure that all of the wishes that you state in your Will are carried out after you die. The executor will take care of your property until he or she hands it over to your beneficiaries. When you choose the executor of your Will, whether he or she is a family member or a friend, make sure you talk it over with your family members and the executor. You and your family members should feel that your executor is trustworthy and responsible.

Once you write and sign your Will, you should keep it in a clearly marked envelope in a safe place. Make sure that your executor knows where to find it. You may not want to put your Will in a safe deposit box, because these are often sealed at the time of death of the owner and it is difficult for anyone, including the executor to gain entry.

You may make copies of your Will if you want to keep the original and give a copy to your executor, lawyer, or a family member.

If you need to make a change to your current Will, you may need to or want to destroy your current Will. You should make sure you destroy all copies of the present Will.

Approximately 70% of Americans do not have a will. Most people think they are too young, they don't have enough assets, or they don't realize that wills are important. However, anyone over the age of 18 with even a small amount of property or assets should consider preparing a Will. A Will can give you assurance that your wishes are taken care of if you die.

Types of Wills

Not all states require that your Will be type-written or word-processed. There are some other options for Will formats. However, the legality of other types or formats of Wills varies from state to state.

Some other ways of presenting or preserving a Will that you may want to consider:

Ш Statutory Wills: This type of Will is a fill-in-the-blank, check-the-boxes form. It is currently only authorized in four states: California, Maine, Michigan, and Wisconsin. However convenient this type of Will may seem, they are very limited in what they allow you to do; any attempt to alter this type of Will may negate it entirely.

Ш Stationery Store Wills: Some office supply or stationery stores sell one- to two-page printed fill-in-the-blank form Wills. However, many offer no instructions as to how you are supposed to fill them out.

Ш Handwritten Wills: They must be written, signed, and dated entirely in the handwriting of the person who is drawing up the Will. Witnesses are not required and in some cases this factor makes this type of Will seem less reliable. Cross-out's may invalidate the entire Will.

Ш Oral Wills: An oral Will is only valid in a few states and usually valid only in special circumstances, such as imminent death.

Ш Joint Wills: This type of Will is a convenient option for married couples. The Will stipulates that if one person in the couple dies, all of the property jointly owned will be transferred to the remaining person. When the second person dies, the Will then designates an executor and designates the property to the beneficiaries. However, there is a major drawback to this type of Will: after the first person dies, the second person cannot make changes to the Will.

Ш Video Wills: NO state allows videotaped or filmed wills

Assets and Trusts

Assets are simply anything that you own, such as property, stocks, bonds, or money within bank accounts. A Trust is a legal document that acts as an "owner" of property. A person, called a Trustee, takes care of the Trust but does not legally "own" the Trust. The person who writes the Trust and transfers his or her assets to it is called a donor, grantor, or settler.

A Trust can be revocable or irrevocable. A revocable Trust can be changed after it is written and signed, while an irrevocable Trust cannot be changed for the duration of the Trust.

With a Trust you can choose to:

Ш Manage assets during your lifetime as a Trustee and pass them on to chosen beneficiaries without probate (meaning you can pass the assets on without having the trust reviewed for validity)

Ш Manage assets for your child until he/she reaches a certain age. The successor Trustee you name can use the income or principal to pay for the child's needs, such as college

Ш Manage assets of an adult who is incapable of handling them, either because of disability or spending habits

Ш Attempt to shield assets from creditors through irrevocable and Spendthrift Trusts

Ш Manage assets for a surviving spouse while holding property for the children of a prior marriage

Ш Reduce estate taxes for couples with estates of over $600,000, and Avoid probate.

There are many Trust options, including:

Ш Living Trust: Created in the maker's lifetime (most often for the benefit of the maker).

Ш Spendthrift Trust: Protects the beneficiary of your Trust from creditors.

Ш Bypass Trust: Designed for married couples with a combined estate of over $600,000.

Ш Totten Trust: Best for amounts of $20,000 or less.

Ш Testamenary Trust: Created by a provision in a will (e.g. in a last will and testament). This type of Trust can be irrevocable and can take on the same qualities as the Spendthrift, Bypass, and Totten Trusts.

Many people choose relatives or close friends, though institutions--like banks or Trust companies--also provide this service. Often a person selected as a minor child's guardian is also named as the Trustee of any Trust established for the child, however it is not required that these be the same people.

A Trust avoids probate completely. Probate is when you must prove to an authorized person (a person within the county government or court system) that a will or document is genuine. With a Trust you appoint a successor Trustee--a person who either ensures that the Trust is upheld or distributes the property within the Trust after your death to the beneficiaries you specify.

To create a Trust, a document called a Declaration of Trust, which looks very similar to a Will, you must be prepared and signed by you (the donor). Some or all of your property will be transferred to the Trust, which becomes the legal "owner." This is almost always best accomplished using the services of an attorney who specializes in such matters.

When you die the person whom you have named as "successor Trustee" takes over your Trust. This person is in charge of taking care of the property under the Trust or of distributing the property to the beneficiaries you specified within the Trust.

Remember, before you take the legal action of creating a trust, it is almost always in your best interest to consult a lawyer for more information and guidance.

So as you can see, there are many ways to deal with death while one is still alive. It is important that one realizes that these means are not there to “rattle Death’s cage” as some people have put it, but for more practical means, such as taking care of the one’s left behind.


Ш Mannino, Davis J. Grieving Days, Healing Days. Allyn and Bacon

Ш Kubler-Ross, E. On Death and Dying. Simon and Schuster






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