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How Do Americans Feel About Dying?

A new study reveals that we are less concerned about dying, than we are about dementia and experiencing pain at death. And, no surprise, half of the people surveyed did not have a will.

A report released by Merrill Lynch of 3,000 Americans, most of whom were over age 55, found that we are least concerned with dying broke and in debt (7%), dying alone (13%), or even dying young (14%). What really concerns most of us is dying in pain (32%) and dying with dementia (34%).

Financial Advisor’s article, “Dementia, Pain Biggest Client Fears About Dying, Survey Says,” explains that the data was part of a report that looked people’s feelings about their heirs, their estate planning and their feelings about death.

Some of the results may not be surprising, since the subject of death and the preparations needed to get ready for it can be a sensitive topic. For example, the study predictably found that nearly 50% of U.S. residents age 55 and over don’t have a will. Only 18% in that age group have a will, a health-care directive and a durable power of attorney. The study also explored feelings that are sometimes hard to uncover, like their fears and hopes about their final days and the legacy they leave their heirs.

Based on the survey results, one possible takeaway is that folks aren’t as hesitant to discuss their own deaths, as is typically believed. About 90% of respondents said they’re open to discussing their end-of-life preferences with family and friends, the report said. Of those 55 and older, 87% said it’s a parent’s responsibility to initiate a conversation with their children about their legacy.

When asked about what they most want to be remembered, leaving wealth to heirs was last on the list. The top response, cited by more than two-thirds of respondents, was “the memories I’ve shared with my loved ones,” followed by the quality of their marriage or partnership; their passions, interests and hobbies; a successful career; and, lastly, the amount of wealth they leave to heirs.

When asked how they would define a “a life well lived,” the most common response was “having a family and friends that love me” (94%), making a positive impact on society (75%), being successful in my career (27%), accumulating a lot of wealth (10%) and being well-known or famous (3%).

“The accomplishments we want mentioned in our eulogies aren’t those featured on our resumes,” said Ken Dychtwald, CEO of research firm Age Wave, which teamed with Merrill Lynch in producing the report. “It’s who we are as people, who we loved and who loved us and how we made an impact on the lives of others.”

What was not included in the study was why so many people avoid having an estate plan prepared. It should be noted that one way we take care of our families, is to make sure that we have planned for their lives, after we are gone. An estate plan does just that.

Reference: Financial Advisor (February 7, 2019) “Dementia, Pain Biggest Client Fears About Dying, Survey Says”

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