– DIY End of Life Planning – DIY End of Life Planning

By Patricia Salber

For most of us, talking about death doesn’t come easily. Yet, it’s something we all experience — the loss of those we know and love, and ultimately, our own death - quote from

In this wonderful age of digital empowerment, we can now take charge of many things that we used to have to depend on others to do for us. Examples include booking vacations and managing our investment portfolios. Now, there is a website, DeathWise, that can help you manage your death–well, not exactly your death, rather the planning for your death. This can mean the difference between an orderly exit or one that leaves your family and friends combing through your papers and guessing your wishes.

In my family, no one ever talked about death, let alone planned for it. One example was the death of my maternal grandmother who, at the age of 78, died in her bed in the apartment she had rented for almost 40 years. Neither her daughters, their spouses, nor the rest of her extended family had any idea about the details of her life despite the fact that we all lived within 30 miles of her house and saw her frequently. We were pretty surprised to find out that all of “her” furniture actually belonged to the landlord. And, that her frugal habits included saving every rubber band that ever made it into her hands – all rolled up into a gigantic rubber band ball. We didn’t know where her papers were, what type of service she would like or even if she preferred cremation or burial. We muddled through, spending days in her apartment opening cupboards, poking around in drawers, and rifling through papers, bankbooks (remember them?), and check stubs. We hoped we did what she would have wanted, but we weren’t really sure.

Planning for Death, There’s a Website for That

Launched in 2010, DeathWise® is an organization with the mission of “changing the conversation about death and dying.” Their goal is to “help you become DeathWise—wiser about death, wiser about how to prepare for it, and wiser about how to deal with it when a friend or family member dies.” They say that once you have prepared for death, “you may feel a new sense of freedom, and resolve to live every day of your life to the fullest.”

I spent some time exploring the DeathWise® website and learned some interesting and important things:

• Did you know that your family may need to have you declared legally incompetent in order to take care of your financial affairs if you do not have a financial power of attorney?

• You should not put your original will, trust instruments, or a powers of attorney in your safe deposit box because, in some states, your safe deposit box will be sealed after your death, preventing immediate access to these important documents.

• You can set up a Joint Tenants with Right of Survivorship (JTWROS) on your checking account so that your co-signer can pay bills on time, even before your estate is settled.

DeathWise provides information that can help you decide what happens to your body after your die. You may envision a nice plot with grass and flowers in your home town cemetery, but did you know that,

“…many cemeteries require that you purchase a grave liner or grave vault to keep the ground from caving in if the casket or burial container collapses.”

I learned on the site that in addition to burial, cremation, and whole body donation, there are some more modern ways to dispose of the remains. Resomation involves dissolving the body into its chemical components and ash by placing it in a mixture of water and potassium hydroxide heated to a high temperature at a high pressure. In promession, the body is submerged in liquid nitrogen and then pulverized, reducing the remains to a fine powder.

The site helps you plan your own funeral or memorial service and write your own obituary. (Personally, I am planning on treating my family and friends to a two hour slide show of all of my vacations over the last 30 years and the photo with my obit will show me as thin, blonde, and beautiful – even if I have to do a bit of Photoshopping to get the effect I want.)

There is information about advanced directives with links to the documents appropriate for your state, organ donation, organ requirements, and hospice. There is also an online magazine with poems, book reviews, art, music and more. And there are blogs, including The Last Taboo blog written by DeathWise® Founder and CEO Anne Bonaparte.

The site is well organized asking on the Home Page if you need help now (someone has died?, someone is dying?) or if you want to plan ahead (make your decisions?, help a friend plan ahead?). There is a “Quick Answer” tool that lets you check off topics that you would like to learn about quickly and a “Map Tool” that is a giant End of Life organizer. I went through the tool and realized I have a ton of stuff to do to get my house in order. Hmm…resomation or promession…not sure yet.

I applaud the DeathWise® people for making End-of-Life Planning a bit easier for all of us by placing the information and tools we need in one place.

I do want to take charge of my exit from this earth and I think that this site can help me do it.

BTW, a nice thank you to Kate O’Malley, from the California Healthcare Foundation, who presented at my ABL Leadership group on “How We Die in California” and turned me onto DeathWise.

Patricia Salber, MD, MBA is the founder and host of The Doctor Weighs In.