Q: I’ve recently been diagnosed with a terminal condition and won’t survive longer than a few months. While I am able to focus and make decisions, I would like to take care of as many legal and financial matters as possible to make it easier on my family. My wife is in the early stages of dementia; it is important everything be in order so she will be well cared for after I am gone. Can you just give me a checklist so I know I am doing all the right things?

A: You are undoubtedly a courageous and thoughtful man; in the midst of your own personal crisis, your priority is making things better for your family. Putting your affairs in order is a gift you are giving to those who care about you. In many ways, you will be saving them from the additional grief of having to make arrangements or deal with stressful matters.

There is no particular order to the tasks you have in front of you. For the purpose of this column, they will be listed but not necessarily starting with the most important. Give careful thought to each topic, discuss them with your family, express your desires and then make the best possible decision.

Will: If you have not done so already, schedule an appointment with an attorney to have a will drawn up. You will need to appoint an executor who will carry out the terms of the document. Keep in mind that having a responsible individual in this role will be essential to act on your wife’s behalf if she is no longer competent to manage her own affairs. A legal professional can provide direction regarding estate planning that best suits your individual situation.

Funeral: This may not be easy on you, but consider how difficult it would be for your family members who are deeply grieving your loss and then have to face all the details of the public acknowledgement of your death.

Express to everyone responsible whether you want to be cremated or have a traditional funeral with an open casket. Is there a spiritual adviser you would like to conduct the service or someone in particular you would ask to give the eulogy? What do you want your obituary to say and have you thought about composing that now? It is possible to have all the details worked out and the bill paid in full prior to your passing.

Durable power of attorney: It may be beneficial to have someone who can manage your financial affairs as your condition deteriorates. Typically, the spouse would be the one to pay the bills and handle the banking, but if that is not realistic in your case, you must find someone you trust to step in and take over when you are no longer able to manage your day-to-day finances.

Health care proxy or living will: The documents vary from state to state, so determine which advance directive is acceptable where you live. You are either stating your wishes regarding medical treatment and end-of-life care in writing or appointing another individual to carry them out. Pick someone you can totally rely on to act in your best interest.



Rosanne DiStefano is executive director of Elder Services of the Merrimack Valley. Do you have a question? E-mail ro@esmv.org. Free elder care advisers are available to speak with families about community services and other issues at 978-683-7747.

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