Through the years, I’ve helped many people plan for retirement.
By necessity, many of the conversations revolve around money. How much are your necessary expenses? What are your sources of income? What future costs do you anticipate? Can you afford to stay in your home? What happens when one spouse dies? Do you want to leave a legacy? And many more questions like these. These are important and need careful thought if you’re going to have a successful, satisfying retirement. As important as these questions are, there are other subjects, equally important, that require serious thought.
To begin with, we will discuss the Advance Medical Directive (AMD) decisions. Notice I said decisions and not documents? Because the important part is deciding what those documents should say. Having an AMD without thinking through what you want is like buying a plane ticket without knowing your destination. It’s not likely to take you where you want to be. Knowing what you want is to know where you want to go, your destination. Then you know what needs to go into the AMD, so you get what you want. We are told we need to have these documents. But let me ask you a question: When was the last time you discussed what should go into these documents? That’s the part of the discussion that is often left out.
You need to start with serious reflection and honest conversations about what you want to happen. These can be difficult decisions. And it will lead to some soul searching and subjects that can be both difficult and emotional. But understand this, you cannot avoid these decisions. They will either be made and communicated by you ahead of time. Or they will be made in the heat of the moment by family or medical staff that may or may not know what is best, or may not know what you want. Making decisions in the heat of the moment is the worst form of decision making. It often leads to conflict because there is tremendous emotional pressure at the time. It often leads to bitterness and anger afterward, even permanent damage to relationships as some may l feel left out or sidelined. On the other hand, there is often real comfort to be able to look back and be able to say, ‘We did what mom wanted’ or ‘We did what dad wanted.’
What sort of decisions should you be making? Here’s one example. At the end of life, what type of medical treatment do you want? Do you want all efforts possible to keep you alive? Or have you made a Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) decision? One lady I helped, a personal friend of mine in her 70’s decided that if she had a cardiac event, she would accept electrical heart stimulation, AFib, but not chest compressions?
Many times, when older ones get CPR, they end up with broken bones and die anyway, and die in pain. She didn’t want that, and she didn’t want to put her family through it. Another couple faced a different situation. The husband was in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, and he decided to put a DNR in place and specify no extraordinary efforts be made not to be a burden for his wife.
This is just one area of consideration. There are likely many things you’ll want to consider. And your circumstances and decisions are unique to you. It’s easy to put off difficult and emotional decisions. Understand these are all decisions that will be made. Either with thoughtful intent or at the time they must be made. Deciding now what you want to happen later is simply proper planning. It can bring you peace of mind knowing you’ve thought this through, and it’s liberating. It helps your loved ones, your family and friends know what you want, and how they can support you.
Too often, when we think about retirement, we only think about the money. It is essential for planning, but it is not the only pivotal choice. Deciding what we want at the end of life and communicating those choices will become very important at that time. And what we do, or do not do, will have long-lasting impacts.