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Civic Coffee Recap: End of Life Planning

People sitting in folding chairs around tables with black tablecloths at the July Civic Coffee event.

In July, Age Friendly Seattle and the South Park Senior Center hosted a Civic Coffee on end-of-life planning. Panelists were Beverly Tryk, the communications manager for People’s Memorial Association, and Maria T. Greene, estate lawyer at her law office, Maria T. Greene, PLLC.

According to AARP, only four of every 10 adults in this country have a will or living trust. Navigating will and estate planning is a difficult and ongoing task that requires time and honest conversations. Although this topic is universal, it is important to mention that end-of-life planning is personal and unique for every individual.

Age Friendly Seattle program manager Dinah Stephens facilitated the discussion, starting with the question, “How many people plan to live forever?” This magnified the relevance of this topic for all people regardless of age and stage in life.

Maria explained that end-of-life planning involves conversations about what a person wants when facing terminal illness or rite of passage, getting affairs in order for the distribution of assets, and documenting all wishes in writing, including wills and power of attorney. Her law office provides legal services for estate planning with a special focus on clients with life changing diagnosis and chronic health conditions.

Maria is the daughter of an immigrant mother with a large extended family. In her life, she has witnessed how her culture and values affect end-of-life planning, which is why she supports clients in processing how their story and circumstances may integrate into their estate planning needs. Her own family’s culture and values allows her to help her clients because she knows each person’s culture may integrate with their estate planning needs.

People’s Memorial Association (PMA) is a nonprofit consumer advocacy and funeral education cooperative. They focus on educating people on their rights and options for after-death arrangements and guide members and families to save money by taking advantage of negotiated funeral and burial costs. They also help break down the taboos surrounding death and relieve families of burdens they may face when a loved one dies.

PMA members can apply online and pay a one-time fee of $50. Membership allows access to discounted rates for cremation and burial plans at PMA-contracted funeral homes, discounts on events and classes about end-of-life issues, and many more benefits. They serve as a resource for all aspects of end-of-life planning.

Maria mentioned end-of-life planning documents that a person should prepare, including wills and powers of attorney. In a will, a person can establish whether assets go to charity, to family members, or some combination. Power of attorney appoints an individual who will be responsible for making legal and/or medical decisions in the event a person can no longer make them on their own.

Reviewing and updating these documents is crucial when circumstances change. A new grandchild, a change in family relationships that requires a new agent, and a new home are examples of events that may require updated legal documents.

Psychologists find that death is a difficult topic—it raises fear, anxiety, and sadness in many people—which is why many people do not want to have these conversations with their loved ones. Beverly mentioned that most people learn about death through art, movies, books, and broad conversations with friends—there is no handbook.

Through her experience at People’s Memorial Association, Beverly found that the taboos of death delay people from having these important conversations with their loved ones. She has seen the toll that it takes on families when end-of-life plans aren’t made and discussed in advance. She stated that end-of-life planning prepares the individual and their loved ones for these circumstances and removes the stress that families may feel when these plans aren’t made.

Both panelists encouraged individuals to sit down with their loved ones and initiate these conversations. When families discuss death, it relieves anxiety and allows family members the opportunity to discuss any worries, fears, and wishes.

Age Friendly Seattle appreciated the attendance and participation of the South Park Senior Center attendees and others who engaged in conversation about the importance of end-of-life planning, and hopes the discussion provided insight on the topic.

Couldn’t attend this Civic Coffee? Join the next one on Tuesday, September 26 (10:30–11:30 a.m.), at the Southeast Seattle Senior Center (4655 S Holly St, Seattle, WA 98118) for a discussion on falls prevention.

Stay connected with Age Friendly Seattle by visiting the events webpage and Aging King County’s Age Friendly Live—Virtual Events webpage, and follow Age Friendly Seattle on Facebook and Twitter.

Fathima GarciaContributor Fathima Garcia is an intern with Age Friendly Seattle. She is a recent Seattle Central College graduate with an associate degree in business administration. Starting this fall, she will study Human Resources Management at the University of Washington Foster School of Business.

The photo at top was taken at the July 2023 Age Friendly Seattle Civic Coffee at the South Park Senior Center.