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Are Your Affairs in Order?

Death and Dying and Getting Your Affairs in Order
Katarzyna Bia?asiewicz /123RF.com

Delivering horrible news never gets easier. The physician pauses with a tense hand on the door, takes a deep breath, and enters the patient’s room. A room full of hope and anticipation is displaced abruptly with fear and sadness. The diagnosis is now revealed, and the patient and family step back in disbelief.

We will do everything we can to help you beat this but recommend that you get your affairs in order.

It’s these reminders of how short life is that create the opportunity for valuable exercises. Having gone through this process myself, and while I am no lawyer and this is not legal advice, I wanted to share a few thoughts on this matter.

Define The Scope
Affairs is such a nebulous term. Breaking down decisions by category can be an easy way to ensure nothing is missed. Take a close look at daily life and a yearly calendar to develop a working list. Categories such as home, spouse, kids, investments, cash accounts, personal property, vacations, monthly expenses, insurance policies, business interests, real estate holdings, friends, charitable organizations, etc.

Within each category, there will likely be assets and policies that must be liquidated, rolled over, or transferred. Having a financial planner managing all these accounts makes sure nothing is missed or lost in the shuffle.

Consider Automation
The power of the Internet allows everything to be automated to some degree. When contemplating a serious surgery or battling cancer, use of electronic banking and automated bill pay services removes one headache from daily life. Don’t expect your loved ones to know what bills are due when. Missing a life insurance premium now is horrible timing.

Outsource
Illness drains the energy from life. Consider hiring a real or virtual assistant to help with a variety of tasks. Time is scarce, and healing takes energy. Virtual assistants can help track expenses, write letters, send cards and correspondence, research home care or physical therapy options, monitor email for important messages, and order flowers as a way of thanking those who are supporting you during this process. The options and services are nearly limitless, so resist the temptation to do everything yourself.

Many of my physician friends operate successful side ventures distinct from medical practice. Their reliance on virtual assistants is vital to keeping all the balls in the air while juggling life and work.

Hire A Skilled Attorney
Estate planning, advanced health directives, trusts, and wills become complicated quickly. Having an experienced attorney walk through all the options will provide piece of mind. This process takes time, and rushing through it will undoubtedly create legal hassles for your family and friends. Approach these meetings with an open mind and be prepared to do some homework. For example, did you add a secondary beneficiary to that life insurance policy you bought 25 years ago? What about a transfer on death form that ensures your significant other gets access to your cash accounts? Do you know about per stripes?

This is just the tip of the iceberg. Let your attorney ensure your family is taken care of, assets are transferred smoothly and probate avoided when possible.

Make A Book
It is never a fun task to contemplate one’s mortality. Leaving all the decisions to loved ones only worsens their grief. Take a moment and craft an instructional letter with specific wishes such as funeral music, cremation or traditional, pallbearers, readers, and presiding minister or priest.

Make a list of your favorite possession and whom you wish to have each item. Earmark other things for donation or sale. Life’s journey has a tendency to accumulate objects; save your spouse the hassle of deciding which friend gets your favorite hunting rifle or coin collection.

Anyone with children undoubtedly has pondered educational goals for their progeny. Without express and written ideas, don’t expect guardians to know what to do or how to counsel your children.

Single, separated or divorced? These issues have now become more complicated. Maybe a trust is the best way to ensure your desires are carried out. Do you want an agent of the court to monitor the executor of the trust? How much are you going to pay the executor? How about childcare or other management tasks?

Organizing all this information in a single book will be vital in managing your affairs.

My goal in sharing this was to spur action. Illness, injury, and death have a sneaky way of destroying life’s plans. Data shows that physicians have shorter life spans than the average population. The cumulative stress, hectic schedule, and nights of no sleep subtract from longevity. Don’t let decades of hard work and hopes of a long life prevent proper planning. Your family will thank you for it now and forever.

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About Mitchel Schwindt, MD

Dr. Mitchel Schwindt is a board-certified emergency medicine physician who practices in a variety of clinical settings. He completed his residency at Butterworth Hospital in Grand Rapids, Michigan. As part of Michigan State University, Butterworth was renamed Spectrum Health, and is one of the busiest level 1 emergency and trauma centers in the United States. He served as chief resident his final year. While there he was inducted into Alpha Omega Alpha, a prestigious medical honor society. He also devoted a significant amount of time working as a flight physician (helicopter) for an aeromedical company.

Dr. Schwindt has served on many committees and steering groups related to health care, quality and process improvement and was a former trauma program medical director. He serves as a volunteer physician for local sporting and martial arts events. He is a consultant and medical advisor to several dental groups and has developed protocols and policies related to medical issues in the dental practice.

Wellness and nutrition are a passionate interest for Dr. Schwindt. He writes extensively on the subject and has published several related books. He is a member of the A4M – The American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine and is currently pursing a functional and sports medicine fellowship.

In his free time, he enjoys competing in triathlons, skiing, water sports, time with family, foreign travel and pursuing entrepreneurial activities.