Dia de los Muertos, Day of the Dead, is a popular holiday in Mexico and the Southwestern United States, and is celebrated on Nov 1-2nd. Having grown up in San Diego, I was aware of the celebration and to be honest I was pretty freaked out at first by all the skull and skeleton decorations! When I came to learn that Day of the Dead was in fact a day to remember loved ones who had died and to celebrate and remember them, I became intrigued.
Talking about death is a lot like talking about money in American culture – we don’t do it. Or if we do, it is behind closed doors or in hushed voices. I love that the Day of the Dead is a celebration of life, a party with colorful decorations, lots of good food and music, and time to reflect and share the memories of those we love and miss. Moreover, it presents a wonderful opportunity to talk about death itself.
When a loved one dies, there is of course grief and sadness. This difficult and painful time can be compounded by family conflict and/or bureaucracy if appropriate measures are not put into place while the loved one is alive. While we may not like to talk or even think about death, the knowledge that we are lessening the future pain and suffering of those we leave behind is a powerful motivator to take action.
Here are some actions that can be taken to help ease the burden on surviving loved ones, in my personal order of importance:
- Have a Medical Power of Attorney aka Advanced Medical Directive aka Health Care Proxy – any document that names someone to make medical decisions on your behalf if you are incapacitated.
*Critically important for single individuals over 18 – mom and dad cannot make medical decisions for their children once they are 18 years old, and if their (adult) child is incapacitated the last thing parents want to do is have to apply to court for the ability to do so.
- Have basic estate documents in place:
- Power of Attorney (this one is for someone to make legal and financial decisions for you during your lifetime)
- Will - including guardianship if minor children are involved
- Possibly a trust – this is more advanced and should be discussed with your financial advisor and estate attorney
- Make sure that beneficiary designations on your retirement accounts and life insurance policies are up to date and reflect your wishes – you want to make sure that former spouses and or deceased beneficiaries are no longer included.
- Consider sharing your estate plan with your heirs and loved ones while you are still alive so that there are no surprises and you are still available to answer any questions. This may help to prevent hard feelings and even heirs suing one another after your death.
Estate planning takes time and effort that most of us would rather spend on just about anything else. However, failing to plan in order to ease our discomfort only passes it along (exponentially) to those we leave behind.
My grandmother Jane, “G.G.”, was 5 feet tall on a good day, often wore red, white, and blue, and loved a good party! She died 5 years ago just over the age of 91. My family and I will share stories and laugh while eating her favorite pigs-in-a-blanket on her required “little napkins” on Nov 1st this year. In this connected, festive atmosphere the stage will be set for me to ask my family about their wishes at their death? What documents are in place? What do they want their legacy for our family to be?