End of Life Planning

5/20/2022 | By Amy Dickinson

A woman in her 60s is concerned about her older sister who has done nothing to prepare for the inevitability of death – no will, power of attorney, advance medical directive, or burial or cremation instructions. What can be done when a member of the family won’t make estate plans? See what advice columnist Amy Dickinson has to say in this edition of “Ask Amy.”

Dear Amy:

My older sister is 75 and unmarried. She has three grown children in their 50s. I am eight years younger than she.

My sister has always avoided aging and seems in denial about mortality.

When I visited the family a few months ago for her 75th birthday party, my niece expressed concern to me that my sister has made no provisions for death or unexpected illness.

She has no will, power of attorney, advance medical directive, or burial or cremation instructions. Attempts by my niece and her siblings to discuss any of this with my sister are quickly dismissed. My sister refuses to talk about it.

Last year I shared with my sister my general estate plan, including the fact that I have a will, power of attorney, trust, and advance medical directive, and gave the names of my appointees.

I had hoped that sharing such information might nudge her to do similar planning. No luck. My niece is concerned that she and her siblings will be left holding the bag to make critical medical and other decisions for their mother without any idea of what she would want, and that the three siblings might not agree.

This is not about monetary inheritance, as my sister doesn’t have a lot of money. My niece has asked me to try to influence my sister to at least prepare an advance medical directive and burial or cremation instructions.

What can one do when a close member of the family won’t make estate plans? Should I stay out of this or get involved – and, if so, how?

Concerned Sister

Dear Concerned:

senior women on a park bench, mourning the death of a friend or sister, who appears in ghostly apparition beside her. photo by Motortion Dreamstime. Family worries about a 75-year-old mom without a will, power of attorney, AMD, etc. What can be done when family won’t make estate plans?

Yes, you should attempt to speak to your sister about this. It might be best not to overwhelm her with estate planning, but do encourage her to appoint a health care proxy as a start.

Given that you are savvy, well-prepared, and substantially younger than your sister, might you be the right person to take this on?

My home state has health care proxy forms and very easy to understand instructions on the state’s government website. A directive can be simply worded or very detailed. You will need two witnesses but (in my state) it is not necessary to have it notarized.

Do a search for the state your sister lives in, discuss the forms with her, and if she would like you to and you are willing, fill the forms out with her and notify her children of her decision. She can always change her mind later.

A reader response re. family won’t make estate plans

Dear Amy:

“Concerned Sister” was trying to prompt her aging sister to make some plans for her future.

Thank you for highlighting the need for families to discuss end-of-life issues with one another.

My mother descended into the ravages of dementia before we had ever discussed these things. In the years I spent caring for her, I often wished I knew what her wishes were. It would have made everything so much easier for me and for other family members who were trying to provide the best care for her.

We were very much in the dark, and I still have regrets about that tough period.

With Regrets

Dear Regrets:

The situation you describe is what journalist Ellen Goodman was struggling with through her own mother’s illness and death, inspiring her to start The Conversation Project, which provides helpful prompts to get families talking.

In the tradition of the great personal advice columnists, Chicago Tribune’s Amy Dickinson is a plainspoken straight shooter who relates to readers of all ages. She answers personal questions by addressing issues from both her head and her heart. A solid reporter, Dickinson researches her topics to provide readers with informed opinions and answers – ranging from when family won’t make estate plans to grandparenting to DNA surprises. Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068. 

© 2021 by Amy Dickinson

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Article updated on May 20, 2022 with the reader response.

Amy Dickinson