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What Prince Philip’s Death Shows Us About The Importance Of End-Of-Life Planning

Since his death last week, Prince Philip has been remembered around the world as a model of service and a loyal and loving husband. His over 70 years in the public arena as a member of the Royal Family has many feeling that a beloved member of their own family has passed.

While memorials and tributes continue to pour in, one thing is clear:  Prince Philip had clearly defined wishes regarding how he wished to pass as well as his funeral plan. In his case, as an important state figure, it was a requirement. In many ways the ritualistic nature of that plan is allowing many to remember the Prince and all he accomplished.

While this type of planning might only seem fit for royalty, it is actually something that all of us can accomplish with our estate planning documents. Specifically, our health care directives can help us with end-of-life planning and funeral planning, and the process is quite simple.

Despite the importance of these documents, The Palliative and Advanced Illness Research Center at Penn Medicine found in a 2017 study that only one-third of all Americans have such a document for end-of-life care. Further, there is a higher level of engagement for older Americans versus younger individuals. For such an important decision, there is room for greater improvement in obtaining these documents.

Directive for Final Wishes

A health care directive is a legal document that allows an individual to name an agent to make medical decisions for them if incapacitated. Upon death, it gives the agent the ability to manage the decisions regarding the body.

When most people think of health care directives, they typically think of pain relief and interventions. The circumstances of Prince Philip’s passing serve as an example of additional features that can be added to a health care directive.

Prince Philip was able to pass away at home in Windsor Castle. In the final two months of his life, he spent a significant amount of time in hospital. After his death, it was revealed that his final wish was to die at home. Fortunately, that wish was fulfilled.

But Philip’s wish is not unique to royalty. Many do not want to end their lives in hospital if it can be avoided, and the health care directive is a powerful way to express this. An individual can add to their directive that they wish to die in their home rather than in the hospital. While fulfilling this wish might not be possible depending on the circumstances, for the agent, it is helpful to have a clear directive about what an individual wants as they pass away.

Creation of A Funeral Plan

Further the health care directive can help design a funeral plan. Funeral planning has been around for centuries, but in modern day estate planning, one’s wishes have often been relegated to a simple directive of burial or cremation within the health care directive.

For many people, these directions are not adequate. Today, individuals are embracing the idea of giving more detailed plans for their funeral. These directions can include a variety of instructions. Some  people may choose to identify the type of religious service, hymns and speakers at the funeral. Others may choose to lay out details for the final event they will plan for their loved ones. As a result, funeral plans can consist of elaborate parties and ceremonies that an individual would want to have as their final goodbye. 

Finally, for those who are socially conscious, funeral plans can be the last chance to embrace their ideals. From being buried in an environmentally friendly mushroom suit that will disintegrate back into the earth to having ashes spread among the trees in a beautiful setting, many are choosing these more thoughtful funeral arrangements.

Regardless of the wishes, having these detailed plans can help the family grieve and honor the deceased’s last wishes. They can also alleviate potential family tensions about what the plans should be.

Straightforward Process

Obtaining a health care directive is a straightforward process. Since groundbreaking cases in the 1990s and 2000s, all fifty states offer a form for residents to fill out to state their wishes for end-of-life planning. They are often downloadable from the state website. 

As the pomp and pageantry of Prince Philip’s funeral unfold over the next week, it might be a good time to complete and sign a health care directive to help detail how you’d like your end-of-life and funeral plans to play out.

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