We're About to Have a Death Boom. Are You Ready?

By Lewis J. Walker

NEW YORK ( AdviceIQ) -- Most folks don't make preparations before dying. Preparing means communicating with relatives and other loved ones -- and it's hard.

First responders and combat soldiers train for life-threatening situations. They rehearse responses and how to communicate with team members. Generally, families don't do that. When a crisis strikes, loved ones wing it amid stress and confusion.

We know serious accidents and life-threatening illnesses can strike. Shouldn't we communicate our wishes to our loved ones, our potential caregivers, before a crisis?

In late June, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution interviewed Toni Miles, director of the College of Public Health Institute of Gerontology at the University of Georgia. She spoke of the emotional and physical strain that caregivers and survivors experience after the death of a loved one. As head of the Mortality Project, which tracks death's health effects on survivors, Miles noted, "We are now in a new period where demography influences mortality. As the baby boomer age wave rolls on, almost 80% of all deaths in any given year are people age 40 and older."

Added Amy Florian, a Chicago thanatologist and expert on death, dying and grieving, "We had a baby boom. We're going to have a death boom."

The reality, noted the Journal-Constitution: Almost one in five residents of Georgia, my home state, roughly 1.1 million people, suffered the death of a close relative last year. Three out of 10 Georgians, 400,000 people, lost two or more family members last year. Miles believes grief -- especially from multiple losses -- drives many of the nation's health problems, including obesity, depression and heart disease.

Life's end hits all concerned. Caregivers and survivors pay a physical and financial price. Given the certainty that you will die, shouldn't yours know how to respond? Do they know what you want and expect of them?

Start with an up-to-date power of attorney -- where you appoint someone else as your legal agent when you can't manage your affairs -- for assets and health care and address the many questions. Let's say you can't make decisions at the end of your life. Who manages your financial and business affairs? Who accesses funds to finance your care? Where does the money come from? Did you create a plan with a financial advisor? Are you realistic about costs? Can your designated agent find all of your accounts? Passwords? Who's your alternate if your primary designee cannot act?