Every year at this time, the Social Work Department at BID staffs tables outside the cafeteria for a few days. The project is called Talking Turkey, and we are there with various important forms that most people prefer to avoid. Thinking and talking with your family about end of life (EOL) decisions is so very important and should never, please, be left until the circumstances require difficult choices.
Very honestly, it is rare for a cancer patient and his/her family to have the very worst of these experiences. Those, the ones where someone spends days or longer in a vegetative state and no one knows what choice to make, generally happen only when there is an acute event: a car accident, a heart attack, a major stroke. With cancer, for better or for worse, but I think definitely for better, there is time. There is time to complete important tasks, to say good-bye, to close the circle wherever it is still open. And there surely is time to talk with your doctors about your wishes. Oncologists know their patients well, and these are conversations that have been going on over the course of someone's progressive illness.
If you haven't done the very basic things like a will and a power of attorney, please attend to them. And then begin to think about the more complicated choices. Here are two excellent websites with materials that will help: http://theconversationproject.org/ and http://www.agingwithdignity.org/five-wishes.php
And then there are all the practical things. A colleague recently lost her 45 year old brother-in-law after a very brief illness. She told me that her sister has no idea what all of his passwords are, and that lacking information is making everything very difficult. Here are a few lists of these basic things that we need to leave for our families' information:
Location of all important personal documents (birth or baptismal certificate, Health Care Power of Attorney, Financial Power of Attorney, Social Security card, marriage or divorce papers, naturalization and citizenship papers, discharge papers from the armed services).
Information about outstanding debts.
Location of safe deposit boxes and keys.
List and location of insurance policies. This should include the name of the insured, policy number, amount, company, and beneficiary for each life, health, accident, disability and burial insurance policy.
List of pension systems that may provide disability or death benefits; e.g., Social Security, Veterans Affairs, Railroad Retirement, government retirement.
List and location of all bank accounts (checking and savings), stocks, bonds, 401(K)/403(B), IRAs, trust documents, real estate (property deeds), and other major property (including vehicle titles).
List of all PIN numbers, user names and passwords, correlated to their accounts (Internet and otherwise).
List of the names of various advisors, their addresses, and telephone numbers (lawyer, executor of the estate, life insurance agent, accountant, investment counselor).
Instructions concerning business operations, if any.
An explanation of actions taken in a will, such as disinheritances.
Personal information: full name, address and length of residence there; Social Security number; date and place of birth; father’s name and mother’s maiden name; marital status; names and addresses of children, spouse, and other members of the immediate family; schools or colleges attended and degrees and honors received; name of employer and position held.
Instructions about the funeral, memorial service, and preferred disposition of the body. Your loved one should also include any specific instructions for clergy and funeral directors.
Location of membership certificates to any lodges or fraternal organizations that provide death or cemetery benefits.
Location of will.
Names and phone numbers of friends and relatives who should be informed of the death.
Plan Ahead ~ Be Prepared!
Checklist for Long Range Planning
Try to keep valuable papers in one area or indicate on this list where each can be found.
Social security number:
Social security number:
Date this document prepared:
Copies given to:
Safe deposit box and key location:
Advance Directives / Living Will / Medical Power of Attorney for Health Care / DNR - Location of original copies and names of health care agents:
Location of any contracts or agreements:
Life insurance policies:
Health insurance policies:
Car insurance policy:
Trust agreement :
Checking, saving accounts and bank or credit union location:
Military papers (i.e., DD214) :
Funeral arrangements (include funeral home location and director's name and amount paid). Also include location of paperwork:
Titles and deeds of property or other valuables (include address or location):
Auto ownership records:
Stored property and location:
Emergency contact(s) including address and phone numbers:
Please take a little time to attend to these tasks. And then put the information away and move forward with your life.