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50+: Live Better, Longer

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Putting Affairs in Order Before Death

Experts explain the steps you should take to make sure your family knows your wishes on everything from funeral plans to end-of-life care.

Planning a Funeral

No. 5. Ease the trauma of your death for survivors by preplanning your funeral. "Leave instructions on how you want your body to be disposed of," says Sabatino. "Today, when families are so far-flung, how are you going to get your children together for your funeral or memorial service? You can arrange for their travel expenses. You can write your own obituary, or at least a minibiography for death announcements."

Those are the "big five," as Sabatino calls them, but he and other experts suggest a few others:

  • Donate your organs. Carry an organ donation card in your wallet. Keep a second card with your important documents so it will be found quickly should you have an accident. In many states you can become an organ donor when you renew your driver's license. For information, visit www.organdonor.gov.
  • Make sure you have life insurance if your spouse or children will need financial support after you die.
  • Think about long-term care. "Stay out of a nursing home if you can," Sabatino says. "Most people who end up in nursing homes become impoverished and qualify for Medicaid. Don't assume that long-term care insurance will protect you. "You may have a condition that disqualifies you," says Sabatino, "or you may not be able to afford it. Premiums can cost up to $2,000 a year for a 60-year-old and double each decade after that." You may be able to give some money to your children so they can help you after you can qualify for Medicaid, but you must do that well in advance of going into a nursing home now that Congress has tightened the rules. "If you give your property away, you may be disqualified from Medicaid coverage."

The important thing is to start planning sooner rather than later, according to Dan Taylor, author of The Parent Care Conversation. In his book he offers detailed suggestions on how to talk about these issues with your parents and, if appropriate, with your children.

"I think that people do not talk with each other about this because they don't know how to begin the conversation," Taylor says.

Taylor wrote the book to help others avoid the problems he encountered after his father developed dementiadementia. Taylor realized that with a few simple conversations, he could have taken much better care of him.

"There needs to be a major dialogue between adult children and their agingaging parents about how best to prepare for and how best to be able to spend these extra years, in terms of quality of care and quality of life," Taylor says. "And the dialogue needs to occur now."

Don't begin the conversation by telling your parents what you want them to do, as though you know what's best, Taylor suggests.

"A better way to begin is by asking your parents what their view of the future is," he says. "Many [adult children] have no idea if parents are OK financially. They don't know where the assets are. Then something happens that forces them to take control, and by then the parent may not be able to tell them."

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