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How to Prepare for Your Own Death

Tamsen Butler
Senior woman looking pensively out window

Though no one can know with absolute certainty when the moment of their death will arrive, there are some people who may have a better idea of their death approaching. Whether a fatal diagnosis, advanced age, or simply the desire to come to terms with mortality is the catalyst for a desire to prepare for death, there are tangible things a person can do to prepare for death and perhaps even accept it.

Legal and Financial Preparation

If you don't have a will or a living trust, now is the time to get one written or established. If you have a will, you should review it to make sure it matches your wishes in present day. Make changes with the help of an attorney to ensure everything is done correctly. A legal will is the only way to ensure your estate is divided according to your intentions.

Obtain a Power of Attorney

A power of attorney allows a person to act on your behalf in financial matters, so choose an individual carefully. Note that a power of attorney cannot make changes to your will, but will have access to your accounts. You can give a special power of attorney that only allows specific actions, which is preferable to a general power of attorney if possible. It's a good idea to set up a power of attorney to someone you trust if you're expected to lose cognitive function prior to death.

Set Up a Living Will

A living will, or advance directive, specifies your wishes regarding resuscitation. For example, if you are in the process of dying, do you really want the medical team to do whatever they can to "save" you? This might include CPR or other measures. If your wish is to die peacefully and without prolonging the process, a living will can specify this.

Senior woman signing a document

Getting Money in Order

Take an expansive look at your money in general. Are there creditors who will likely pursue your beneficiaries or estate, and if so, might you have the financial means to pay those off before your death? If you are leaving behind someone with whom you share financial resources (like a spouse) you should take the time to ensure they fully understand:

  • What assets you have, where they are, and how to access them
  • Details of your debts or financial obligations

Life Insurance Needs

If you have life insurance, tell your beneficiary so they know who to contact upon your death. If you are in the process of dying based on a medical issue, you may not be able to obtain life insurance that will kick in before your death. Life insurance companies typically require medical examinations (or at the very least, a statement of your current health) and those that don't may have a waiting period before the benefit kicks in. If, on the other hand, you are simply preparing for death as a general preparation, getting life insurance can help you feel more at ease with eventually leaving your loved ones behind.

Pay for Your Funeral

Pre-pay for your funeral, burial plot, or other final arrangements if possible. This takes a significant burden off your loved ones.

Logistical Preparation

Regardless of how much you try to prepare your loved ones for your death, they will likely be at a loss for what to do next upon your death. Make it as easy for them as possible by making it clear beforehand - preferably in writing:

  • What you want to happen to your body (burial, cremation, organ donation)
  • What songs you want at your memorial service, funeral, or celebration of life
  • What photos you want displayed with your obituary or social media announcement of death
  • Who you want to speak at your funeral or memorial service
  • Any other details you want to specify

Write Your Obituary

There is no etiquette rule that forbids you from writing your own obituary. It's a good way to not only ensure the obituary is what you want it to be, but also to take a significant burden off your loved ones. If you write your obituary, give it to the person who will be responsible for submitting it to the local newspaper.

Craft a Goodbye

If there are things you want to say to your loved ones upon your death, film or write a goodbye message to be released at your funeral or memorial service. Make this a positive, loving message - remember that the people you leave behind will be in emotional pain upon your death. This isn't the time to try to have the last word in an old or ongoing argument.

Work With Your Medical Team

Have frank discussions with your physician about what you can expect leading up to your death. Discuss hospice care options or your options to die at home, if that is your desire. Include your loved one who acts as caregiver in these discussions so they also know what to expect.

Mental Preparation

If you acknowledge what most frightens you about death, you can work toward reconciling it in your mind through action. For example, if your biggest fear is the loved ones you will leave behind, take the steps above to make it an easier transition than it would be otherwise. If your biggest fear is the potential pain of dying, discuss pain management options with your health provider. Examine what you fear and take steps to ease your fear.

Spiritual Preparation

Depending upon your faith, there may be sacraments or rituals you can do to ready yourself for death. Speak with your religious leader about faith-specific steps you can take prior to passing away. If you have never delved into any faith, exploring this option now may bring you some comfort.

Accept Death

Everyone will die. Acknowledging that dying is something that will happen to every person and that it is inevitable may help you accept your impending death. If you have trouble with this acknowledgment, speak to a licensed mental health professional who can help walk you through these complex thoughts and emotions.

Enjoy Now

Your health may not allow you to travel the globe or mark skydiving off your bucket list, but you can enjoy the present by surrounding yourself with people you love, reading books or listening to music that brings you joy, and appreciating things like the sun shining or the birds chirping. Do things that bring you pleasure and make you happy. Live every moment to the fullest as much as possible.

Young hand holding a senior's hand

Final Goodbye to Loved Ones

Saying goodbye to the people you love is an important gift to them. It will be difficult to say goodbye, especially face-to-face, but they will likely treasure the final conversation with you and it will help them along as they work through the stages of grieving.

The Next Step

Whether you prepare for death or not, it will happen. It's far better to prepare beforehand and die in peace knowing your loved ones aren't burdened with making decisions you should have made.

How to Prepare for Your Own Death