I have recently been reading a book by Dr. Atul Gawande, called “Being Mortal—Medicine and What Matters in the End”. At times a somber tone, but a very important conversation often neglected by us, namely what matters at the end of life. Dr. Gawande exams how in Western society we approach death as a medical option to avoid—and to that end, individually and as a society, we spend enormous sums of money, effort, and care directives to put death off for as long as possible. In one part of the book, there is a large discussion of “socioemotional selectivity theory”, i.e., the idea that perspective matters as you age or battle disease. And one of the intriguing findings is that as health fades, or potentially fades, humans realize their time is limited and newness, that quest for knowledge, new ideas, and new experiences, fades. Instead, what is valued as time is limited is more comfort and companionship. The book examines this theory in how we medically treat elderly and people with disease, and how their wishes get supported or denied by our current options. The book is fascinating, and I highly recommend it.
Why does this matter to me as an Estate Planning Attorney? In my experience, people spend so much time during planning on the inheritance portion—i.e., who gets what. But the area they refuse (or neglect) to plan is the how—how do I want the end of my life to be? What gives me comfort? What gives my companionship? Who and what do I want to be with as my life closes? I understand, people are afraid of death and dying topics. But no one is leaving any other way……and we do not have the option to stay. I try to encourage this conversation with my clients, as the actual who, what, why, where, and how of the end of your life is TRULY one of the more important moments…..much more so than who receives the Krugerrands! Get the book, read it, and start the conversation. Whether you are elderly or youthful, death and dying is part of life. And, the more you think about these questions, the better your plan will go.
At the end of our days, the end of our days does matter.