When I was in elementary school in the 1960s, my family’s set of encyclopedias claimed that I could expect to live to the ripe old age of 70. That seemed incredibly old to me. Fast-forward to 2020, and the current consensus is that I will live into my 80s, barring a catastrophic illness or an accident. Advances in medical science are probably the primary reason for this difference, but now, when 80 seems pretty young to me, I have to ask, is a longer life necessarily a good thing? It is not that difficult to think of compelling reasons in order to answer that question in the negative.
Although science has stretched our lifespans, it has not yet perfected a way to keep us mentally and physically competent until the ends of our lives. The net result is that we live longer, but our quality of life in the extra years that science has granted us may not be what we would desire. In our grandparents’ day, senility was not unknown, but back then, most people died before they had a chance to plumb the depths of Alzheimer’s. Each person reading these words must recognize that he or she has about a 70 percent chance of being incapacitated to the point of needing long-term care for some period of time before the final bell.
Planning for the likelihood of eventual incapacity can make our final years much more bearable for ourselves and our loved ones than will otherwise be the case. So each of us needs to include in our estate planning arsenals against the inevitable — not only clear instructions about passing on our things, but also clear chains of authority and clear instructions about how decisions will be made on our behalf if we lose the ability to make those decisions.
Most of us would prefer not to think about these things and most of our children (the good ones, anyway) want to think about them even less. But that is a poor excuse for leaving our loved ones in a haze of difficult decisions that could have been considered, analyzed and planned for in advance. Seeing how our minds and bodies are unlikely to improve over time, a plan delayed may very well end up being a wishful thought and the source of deep regret.
Gather your loved ones and your trusted advisors and document the path that you will follow if time and health take you where you do not want to go. This process requires honesty, courage and wise counsel. Ultimately, it will be a source of tremendous peace.