VARINA, VA (WWBT) - Preparing for death is a topic most of us try to avoid, but it's one of the most important discussions you can have with your loved ones.
"We were not prepared at all death is not something that my family has ever talked about," said Douglas Gillie of Varina who recently lost his sister, Linda.
Gillie said when she Linda passed away in her home in January it caught his entire family off guard.
Once it was determined that the death was the result of natural causes Gillie says his family was immediately faced with a dilemma: what to do with her body.
"I mean you see it on TV; they always take the body to the coroner. I mean they take it somewhere and then you deal with it the next day, but chances are if it's natural causes you have to deal with it right then," said Gillie.
They found themselves scrambling to find a funeral home and to pay for the expenses that would follow. Not only that, but there was no real plan for her belongings.
"By not being prepared, by not going out and studying or making a few phone calls, we cost ourselves a lot of extra money, a lot of grief," said Gillie.
Estate planning attorney Paula Peden says people need adequate life insurance to cover final expenses, but that's just a part of what most of us need.
She says there are three basic estate planning documents. First, a power of attorney.
"If you have power of attorney for your loved one you can instantly access all of their accounts and take care of their affairs," said Peden.
She says a will is also important because it determines how your assets are to be distributed. And if you have underage children, it's where you can stipulate who will raise them in the event of your untimely death.
Plus you may need a trust fund to distribute money to minor children when they become of age. Peden says there's one more important document called an advanced medical directive, commonly known as a "living will."
"Within the advanced directive you specify that if you have a condition that's incurable or irreversible, do you want to be kept alive on life support procedures," said Peden.
Similar to a power of attorney, an advanced medical directive also designates who makes medical decisions for you if you can't make them for yourself.
"A lot of people make the mistake of thinking that you have to have a lot of money to prepare an estate plan and that's just not true," said Peden.
That's a lesson Doug Gillie's family learned the hard way.
Sadly he'll be able to put some of his new-found knowledge to use immediately. A year ago doctors diagnosed him with cancer and gave him about a year to live.
"I'm very fortunate because I've had a whole year to say goodbye," said Gillie said. "As prepared as I was mentally, I was not prepared financially."
Gillie has a word to the wise.
"Have family discussions about the possibility of death in the family and how you will deal with it," he said.
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