In a famous teaching to his aunt, Mahapajapati Gotami, the Buddha describes the heartwood of the dharma, and how to gauge whether a given teaching promotes qualities that lead to release and to all the good things leading up to release. Among them are teachings that result in “being unburdensome, not to being burdensome.” In the same vein, when chanting the Sublime Attitudes, Buddhists invoke the wish to look after themselves with ease and that others may do the same.
To that end, the list that follows contains the principal documents and instructions that can help us not be a burden—at the end of life and in death—to ourselves or to our loved ones. Organizations such as Funeral Consumers Alliance and the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (see resource guide) make available end-of-life and funeral planning kits that can take much of the research and guesswork out of this process.
Keep your “dossier” in a place where it will be easy for others to locate and access, and tell people where it is. Discuss your plans and wishes with your designees. No matter how well organized and prepared you may be, if your loved ones and/or caretakers don’t know about your wishes and cannot find original documents, they likely will end up in court to get proxies and guardians appointed. And that would be burdensome.
Advance directives (Living will/Medical power of attorney) These are the most important health-care instructions you can create to document your wishes about how you want to be cared for when you are dying. It allows your designee to carry out your requests and make any other health-care decisions on your behalf, according to your values, if you are unable to do so. If you become incapacitated, without an advance directive (or if designees can’t locate it), your caretakers will have to go to court to get a guardian appointed.
Advance directives can include a Do Not Resuscitate Order (DNR), a document insuring that medical personnel respect your wishes to not undergo CPR or advanced cardiac life support (ACLS) if your heart were to stop or you were to stop breathing. You should also include, attached to your advance directive, a prominent list of health conditions, allergies and names and dosages of any prescription medicines you take.
In addition to the groups mentioned above, the AARP offers a state-by-state listing of advance-directive forms on its website. “Aging with Dignity” publishes “Five Wishes (see resource guide), a customizable document that contains the legal requisites for creating a living will, along with a set of forms for indicating how you would like to be treated when you are dying, where you want to be, and what you want your loved ones to know.
Last will and testament: A will allows you to dictate who inherits your assets and, if you have underage children, who will serve as their guardians. Any donations you’d like to make, such as to a dharma center, would be delineated in your will. Dying without a will means forfeiting these decisions and turning control over to the state court system (and it can complicate retrieving a deceased persons belongings from a hospital among other transactions).
Financial power of attorney (“durable” or “springing”): this allows your designee to pay your bills or take other financial actions for you (a “durable” one can go into effect before you become incapacitated while a “springing” one takes effect when you become incapacitated). Without this, no one can make financial decisions on your behalf in the event that you are incapacitated.
Designated agent for body disposition form: This gives someone the legal authority to carry out your funeral. It is crucial for people with estranged kin or anyone whose family members may not practice the same religion, hold the same values, etc. (Again, see resource guide for a list of laws governing this.)
Body disposition wishes and funeral/memorial services wishes: These documents can guide survivors with broad or specific instructions, or can refer to your designated agent, and this is especially important if you would like a Buddhist funeral that may not be familiar to your next-of-kin. If you’ve picked a funeral home (or more than one) as a possibility because of religious preference or price, etc., list those.
Anatomical donation forms: If you are an organ donor or anatomical cadaver donor, these authorizations and contact numbers need to be available to your designee.
Pet information: Names and breeds of your pets, any medical conditions, dietary restrictions and veterinarian contact info.
Passwords: to your email and any important social network accounts, as well as log-in information for your online banking and other accounts. Now is the best time to decide to whom and how much information to make available.
Ownership, account and credit documents: Maintain an up-to-date list of your accounts, utilities, bank accounts, life insurance and retirement accounts. Also include marriage and divorce papers, if any.
A copy of “10 Tips for Saving Funeral Dollars,” and “Four-Step Funeral Planning,” free from funerals.org (see resource guide). “Plans can go awry, we can die away from home,” says Josh Slocum, Executive Director of the Funeral Consumers Alliance. “All the planning in the world won’t help survivors who don’t know how to negotiate the transaction at all and were counting on you to take care of everything.” These are simple, easy to understand brochures that can be very helpful.
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