The one thing we should all do before it’s too late

Getting your affairs in order can help avoid tension, misunderstandings

Samuel Kirton avatar

by Samuel Kirton |

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The end of life is a period fraught with emotion. Losing someone who touched our lives creates a sudden void.

I’ve witnessed alliances form following the passing of a family member, usually because there are opposing views of what the recently deceased would want. These rifts don’t always heal. But what if you could intercept these disagreements in advance, eliminating the possibility of a rift?

You do have that power; please consider exercising it.

Getting your affairs in order

Even before my diagnosis of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) in January 2017, I’d worked hard to ensure my affairs were in order. This effort was not to protect a palatial estate and vast amounts of wealth, or to direct the color of the cocktail napkins at my wake. The purpose was to ensure my wishes were known.

Before continuing, I feel it necessary to say that legal requirements do vary from state to state. Also, each of our situations is unique, which may make it necessary to engage an attorney who can help you develop a plan to carry out your final wishes.

In my case, I engaged an attorney who specialized in estate planning and trust documents and was an expert in federal and state tax codes. It was critical to me that they understood how I wanted my estate to be distributed and what my personal wishes were regarding my passing.

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We began with a comprehensive worksheet that established relationships and how each person could be contacted. The document also made introductions to financial advisers, brokers, accountants, and insurance agents.

The document asked all necessary questions to construct an advance medical directive, which also appoints my wife, Susan, as my healthcare agent and establishes my wishes regarding organ donation. For example, I could designate my organs for donation or donate my body to science.

The difficult part was deciding on the distribution of real estate, personal property, and any financial assets. That’s where knowledge of tax codes is important, as there may be limits or thresholds that invoke a tax liability.

You can also make planned gifts to nonprofits. If you want a nonprofit such as the Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation (PFF) to receive a portion of your estate, you can work with the organization to establish a bequest.

Not everyone will need to establish a trust or delve into estate planning. Websites can provide you with the necessary tools to prepare a will at no cost. I’m not recommending a specific one, but I do suggest being wary of sites you can’t appropriately vet before you share your information. The PFF recommends FreeWill; that’s an example of a recommendation from a trusted resource.

Maintenance is required

None of these documents are intended to last a lifetime. They must be maintained to reflect changes in your life situation.

I created my initial documents years before I was diagnosed with IPF. After my diagnosis, I updated my documents, recognizing that a chronic, progressive, incurable disease had changed things. Following my bilateral lung transplant in July 2021, my new lease on life dictated that those documents be revised yet again. I now had to consider how much Susan and I would need to draw from our retirement accounts.

In addition, we now have two granddaughters, and we’d like to ensure they can attend college one day. Assets and liabilities should also be reviewed periodically so they accurately represent your estate.

Finally, and this item is one of the most important to review regularly: Is the person named as the executor or administrator of your estate still the right choice? Are they capable, physically and emotionally, of carrying out your wishes? If you don’t believe they are, it’s important to make a change. It can’t be made after you’ve passed.

This column highlights just the tip of the iceberg, but it’s a good starting point to determine what you might need to consider. Don’t wait until the last minute to get your affairs in order. It’s been a necessary part of my journey, and sharing my experience is how I can make every breath count.

Note: Pulmonary Fibrosis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Pulmonary Fibrosis News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to pulmonary fibrosis.


Randall Thornton avatar

Randall Thornton

Hello Sam, Just a short one today. Getting things straight before the end. After I had gotten home from the hospital and able to think and move, my wife and I went to the cemetorium and made all the arrangements that would be needed to take care of me. Got that paid for before we left the business. That done, started working on the will. I consulted all the kids and got their input on things they might like that are mine and how I was to be taken care of after death. This has all been written down. I am constantly updated and making changes as I get updates from the kids. So when that day comes, I hope they have all made up their minds, because there will be no changing it after that..

Samuel Kirton avatar

Samuel Kirton

Hi Randy,

Thanks for reading my column and for your note. I am so glad to hear that you taken positive steps to make this happen. For me, it was a great relief to take that worry away from my wife.

Sam ...


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