How to do your end-of-life planning — Top tips from the experts

Person writing in a notebook, Poppy's funerals, Credit: Unsplash / Glenn Carstens Peters

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Five minute read

As we are living independent lives for longer and as our lives become more complex services and resources are emerging to help with planning for the end of life.

Ashley Jordan, founder of One Stop Organisers, and Annette Earl, founder of Dockleaf Conversations, share their experience and their tips for end of life planning with us.

Ashley — who always had ‘organising’ jobs, before starting her own business — helps seniors, retired people and their families with downsizing, de-cluttering, moving house after someone has died, and a host of other admin tasks, including end-of-life planning and preparations.

“It’s not just practical support, it’s so personal too,” explains Ashley. “I’m very privileged to be let into people’s lives. I sit on their beds, sorting through boxes while they de-clutter, and they tell me stories about their lives, even going back to memories of their own grandparents. I find these conversations so rewarding, and I get great satisfaction from seeing someone moved into their new home, everything unpacked and organised.”

Changing the conversation

Annette helps people make their end-of-life plans, by providing resources, tools and ideas which give practical information and which aim to make conversations about death easier. But she wants to go further.

“I want to change the whole conversation,” she says. “It shouldn’t just be happening at the point of need. Thinking about death, dying, end of life, closing down a life, or sorting out your belongings is hard if you’ve never thought about it until you have to.

“I’m an end-of-life planning advocate. I believe in people being able to make informed decisions, with independence and autonomy, to think for themselves and live the best life they can. It’s not up to me to tell people to make a plan, or what to put in it, but I can ask questions to start them thinking.”

Annette Earl (Dockleaf Conversations)
Annette Earl (Dockleaf Conversations)

Why is end of life planning important?

When we asked Ashley why end of life planning is so important, she drew on personal experience to answer. “Three years ago, I was suddenly very ill with a perforated ulcer. My will was out of date — if something had happened to me, that would have been terrible. I’m not 50 yet, but I have started planning for myself. I’ve thought about funeral directors, set up a lasting power of attorney, and decided what I’d like at my funeral. Although I may need to update it all as things change.”

But end-of-life planning is not just for your own benefit. Annette explains that there are two clear beneficiaries: “It's your plan — so you get peace of mind that your wishes will be honoured. Then there’s your family and friends. Their grief experience can be compounded by unanswered questions and by not knowing if they are doing what you want. It’s an act of autonomy — and of compassion.”

Ashley Jordan (One Stop Organisers)
Ashley Jordan (One Stop Organisers)

Planning a funeral

“When planning a funeral, you’re likely to recreate what you’ve attended before, but this might not reflect the person whose life you are remembering,” explains Annette. “A funeral can be a celebration of life, it can be mourning, it can be both. You don’t have to have Victoriana — if you want a black hearse, go for it, but what if you don’t?

“There’s a lot of misinformation and disinformation out there about what’s possible, and most people don’t have time to check this out at their time of need. People don’t understand that there are very few rules for funerals. Funerals can be life-affirming.”

Ashley agrees: “Writing a will is important, but dull. Planning a send-off? Now, that can be fun!”

“At the very least, make sure people around you know if you want to be buried or cremated,” adds Annette. “If you say to people, ‘I don’t care, do what you want’, you may think you are giving them freedom, but actually you can be burdening people with decisions at a time when they don’t have the emotional capacity for it.”

How to start the conversation

Ashley believes we can all start conversations about end-of-life planning. “I challenge myself to talk to three people,” she says. “Then if they talk to three more, it grows from there.”

“Don’t assume people aren’t willing to talk,” advises Annette. “They might just be nervous of your reaction if they do. It can be safest to start by talking about yourself, sharing your thoughts about what you want, this might encourage someone to open up about themselves. At best, end-of-life planning can be life-affirming because you are making informed decisions for yourself.”

Five top tips for end-of-life planning

1. Don’t put it off. Even if you are in good health, or relatively young, it’s never too soon to start these important conversations. Talking about death does not make it any more likely to happen, it simply helps you to be prepared.

2. Write it down and tell someone. It’s important that someone knows what plans you’ve put in place, so that they can make sure your wishes are carried out. This includes making sure your designated person knows where important documents and passwords are stored.

3. Don’t make assumptions. People might not be comfortable or available to do what you would like them to do. Don’t assume by virtue of the relationship that they will be, make sure you talk it through with them first.

4. Think holistically. People often conflate end-of-life planning with advance care planning, but it’s not the same thing. Although care planning is important, not everyone needs it. If you are relatively well, this might not be the trigger that starts you thinking about other important issues, like financial arrangements, computer passwords, digital identity or even what songs you’d like played at your funeral.

5. Keep reviewing. This is an ongoing process. Relationships and opinions change, and so do practical details and documents. New possibilities become available. This isn’t a one-off conversation.

Read more practical guidance on our blog about how to do death admin or how to plan your own funeral.

Access resources on end of life planning and more from the Info Hub at Dockleaf Conversations and find out about the services that One Stop Organisers can offer.

Book now for our free online panel — 'Matters of life and death' on Thursday 5 May at 7pm.

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