Good. Youre still reading. Im figuring that most people, once they saw the title to this blog, simply shut it down and walked away because, as Im sure you know:
Most people are terrified about the thought of dying, and all of us are afraid of it to one extent or another.
Funny thing, too, because its the one thing thats inevitable and universal. No one gets out of this life alive. And everyone knows it. As we move through the years of our own lives, we witness grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, sisters, brothers, friends, spouses and sometimes, unfortunately, children, all prove the fact that life itself is a terminal condition.
Yet, were still afraid.
My career as an estate planner has made me very much aware of the fear that surrounds the ending of life. In fact, Im willing to state that many people put off seeing me to make an estate plan because the thought of dyingof not being in this lifeis so unpleasant that they dont even want to think about it, so they dont. For those who do care to dip that big toe into the icy ocean of uncertainty, they couch their feelings in benign, harmless terms, such as, Joe, whats gonna happen to my bank accounts IF I die? (Sorry, maam, this is not an if question, its a when question.) Weve even managed to vernacularize the words, die, dying, and death out of the vocabulary by substituting the kinder, gentler euphemism of passing away. (e.g. Did you hear about Charlie? He passed last night.)
Aware of this fear, Ive even tried to come up with some relatively pleasant images of my own about death, so as not to terrorize my clients:
Now, Mrs. Jones, heres what will happen to your estate when youve been called to choir practice with the angels. Or, Mr. Smith, youve just been summoned for harp lessons. How do you want your stuff to be distributed? Ive found that these images usually evoke a smile from my client because they suggest pleasantness and music and clouds and angels and such.
At the end of the day, however, theres no getting around it. We die. All of us. Angels, harps or nowe die. Its the Ultimate Human Condition.
My challenge as an estate planning attorney is to gently, calmly, but matter-of-factly invite my clients to take a peek over that ledge. Since I dont charge by the hour, I have all the time my clients need to get as comfortable as they can with the reality of their own ending. The movie that I show them, however, is not centered on their death, but on their contribution to the River of Life, where the people that follow after them: sons, daughters, grandchildren, great-grandchildrenwhole families–are at peace and get along with each other because estate planning and health care decisions were thoughtfully and carefully made, and a true legacy had been established.
Calm, reasoned, caring estate planning with all ones mental faculties intact is far better than the haste of doing a Deathbed Will, where ones very competency in making sound decisions may be clouded by the present reality of an imminent demise. Ive been to more than one hospital and nursing home to help with this task, and, although the work was necessary, Ive always come away feeling sad for the client I had helped. Sad not because they were dying, but because they hadnt given themselves the time–while there still was time–to consider their choices thoughtfully. I assure you that there is nothing like impending death to motivate an individual to get something down on paper.
My best thought about fear of death: While you still have all or most of your mental horsepower, it might be wise to share your fear with someone you trust who will understand, and who will talk to you about their own fears. If you at least begin to talk about itto get your thoughts and feelings out into the open– you will find that you will fear it less. You will also find that youre not the only one whos afraid.
And if you see me or any other of my able colleagues to plan for your own death like its really going to happen (and it is), you will actually be able to live better with whatever time you have. There is a Peace of Mind that comes to a client who has settled their affairs. Ive seen it on the faces and in the eyes of so many clients over the years that I know it to be so.
Trust me.Im a lawyer.