Two certainties exist in this world: death and taxes. We can find ways around improving our tax situation, however we will all be equal in the end when we are dead. Yes. It’s true. We will all die – even the Baby Boomers who are fighting hard to deny the fact. Are you prepared – financially and emotionally?

We all know the importance of estate planning, although we may not have tackled our own just yet. It is so important to document your wishes with a will or a trust so that your heirs know them. You don’t want to leave your family a mess to sort out in the courts. More importantly you want to keep your family relations harmonious. Get it done! If you’ve already completed your plan, take it out and review it to make sure it still reflects your current wishes.

Another layer of planning that isn’t talked about as much is your end of life journey. “The end” can be an area that can cause a lot of stress for your loved ones if you don’t express your desires. The best selling book by Atul Gawande titled “Being Mortal” is a must read for anyone who is older or taking care of older family members.

Mr. Gawande covers many important subjects about making sure you have quality of life in the days that we have on this earth. As caregivers, we often provide care that we think is appropriate through our own point of view and not taking into account all that the patient or loved one may be going through. Aging is difficult. We all want to remain in control of as much of our life as possible, and with some careful thought this can be done.

The holidays are a time that we gather with family, and they are just around the corner. This might be a good time to start to share some thoughts with your family about what to do if you were really sick. How would your family know how to make the decision to take extraordinary measures to keep you alive or not? Mr. Gawande shares a story about a man who gives the following guidance to his family: “Do the surgery if my quality of life would allow me to watch football and eat chocolate ice cream.” One day his family had to make a sudden decision about a difficult surgery and when they asked the doctor if the father had the surgery would he still be able to watch football and eat chocolate ice cream. The answer was yes and they were able to make the decision on behalf of their father. He did enjoy his football and ice cream.

Also, share with your family your desires of how to handle your burial. Would you want a wake? Open or closed casket? A church service? Do you have favorite readings and/or songs? Do you want a traditional burial or cremation? Where would you like your final resting place to be? These decisions are often made at a time of grief when there is much stress and little time.

Remember, these services really are for the living. You’ll be gone. You might want to consider how your family would feel in implementing some of your wishes. Just imagine if you died suddenly and your family is scattered around the country. They have not seen each other in a long time, and you had adamantly declared there would be no wake. The grieving needs support. Without a wake they may not get it.

I’m not going to lie and say facing one’s own mortality is easy. It’s not. But it is certain. We can all benefit from some frank conversations from time to time about our deepest desires and wishes, as well as about our financial life. Pick up “Being Mortal” for yourself and consider giving it as a gift to those you love this holiday season. Everyone will be glad you did.


Bill Harris is a certified financial planner practitioner. He is a member of the board of directors for the Financial Planning Association of Massachusetts and an Ed Slott Elite IRA Advisor. He is a co-founder and principal of WH Cornerstone Investments in Duxbury and Kingston. He can be reached at or 888-797-9009. 


This article originally appeared in the Old Colony Memorial.

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