Planning for the End of Life

Jeff Opdyke, author of the Wall Street Journal’s Love & Money column, has an important article on planning for the end of life in today’s Sunday Journal. 

One of the things that is hard to come to terms with is that as we get older we won’t be able to do the same things we are able to do now.  Physical limitations will prevent us from taking care of ourselves the way we wish we could.  And you need to prepare yourself for that time or else you might be setting yourself up for some very hard times:

Given the saving habits of this country, I am certain that too many people will go into their final years ill prepared, and will find themselves one day struggling with painfully difficult choices about how and where they live. 

Anytime I write about saving for the last period of life, readers fire off emails telling me that life is too short to worry about what will happen tomorrow when there’s so much life to live today.

I understand those sentiments.  Who knows how long you have to live?  And what a shame it would be to have spent every day denying yourself many of the pleasures life puts before us, only to die early flush with cash.

Then again….

You can bet on a short life, but if you’re wrong, your future misery may well outweigh all the pleasures you accumulated along the way.  And that doesn’t include all the misery you may bring to those around you, who could be forced to pay for your mistakes. 

Opdyke tells the story of Laurie, a 50 year old woman, who learned this lesson in the process of caring for her elderly parents, who had done a good job of providing for their later years:

Laurie’s parents didn’t have any financial worries when it came time to pay their assisted living bills.  ‘They had spent their life saving for this moment,’ Laurie says.  ‘I cannot tell you how grateful I am for that.  Otherwise, my sister and I would be caring for them in an entirely different way.  One of us would have to quit our job to provide home care.’

Opdyke’s concluding thoughts:

Granted, how you live your final years is not the be all to life.  It does, however, mark the end all.  And the question your forced to confront, whether you choose to or not, is how you’ll live when you reach that end stage.

You can choose to worry about that answer in the moment, but at that point you will have few choices.  Or, like Laurie, you can choose to answer the question now and prepare for the choices you’ll ultimately want by making the necessary changes.

In your last years, you want to be able to reflect on your life and spend time doing the things you want to do and with the ones you love, not worrying about how you are going to survive day to day or the burden you are placing on your loved ones.  With life as hectic as it is in America today, its hard to to step back and plan beyond the present.  But I am pretty sure you’ll be thankful you did. 

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