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Preparing for End of Life: A Practical Guide

(photo by Kyle Glenn)

There are two things we can’t avoid in life. Death and taxes. Frankly, of the two, I would rather spend time thinking about and planning for how I want to be cared for and memorialized when I die than to have to wade through the myriad ways to plan how to best appease the CRA and put together a smart tax plan! Of course as a licensed funeral professional who has worked in the deathcare sector for the last 20 years, I admit to a heavy bias towards end of life (EOL) issues. 

That said, my work has afforded me the opportunity to hear and witness all kinds of anecdotes and situations about why or why not to plan for our end of days. Regardless of which side of preparedness one has been on, the overwhelming result is that preplanning for one’s end of days just makes sense. 

Here’s how you can get started. Ask yourself:

  • If you were to die in two days, would you know what you would want to have happen with your body and the other related deathcare practices? Buried? Cremated? Embalmed? Natural body care only? Viewing (private or for anyone)? Church service? Home Vigil? Celebration of Life? Eco-friendly funeral services? Conventional funeral services? Scatter your ashes? Inter your ashes in a cemetery? Repatriate your body to your homeland? 
  • Would your immediate family and / or close friends know what to do? 
  • Who will be responsible for looking after your end of life wishes? Do you know that there are *laws that govern who that person is allowed to be?

If one or all of the preceding three questions have made your brain go blank and your eyes wide, then putting an after life plan into place is essential. Here are some ways to start doing that. 

  1. Know what you want. Think about your life values and how they could be respected once you’ve died. For example, my good friend, DM, values leaving a lighter footprint on earth. She follows the three Rs religiously (reduce, reuse, recycle), eats whole and organic foods and is generally mindful of how her actions impact the environment and those around her. DM’s end of life plans include: 
    • Only natural physical care of her body is to occur (no embalming).
    • She prefers cremation over burial but if green cremation (**aquamation) is not available then she would prefer ***natural organic reduction or green burial, whichever is possible. 
    • Her mourning rituals and ceremonies are planned to be as eco-friendly as possible (the main, formal ceremony will be a blend of virtual and in-person gathering to reduce excess travel, potted plants over cut flowers, locally sourced organic foods for the wake, encouraging guests to bring water bottles…to name a few).
  2. Do some research. We have all heard of the saying, “We don’t know what we don’t know”. I wouldn’t be surprised if, after starting step #1, you think, “are my wishes / choices even allowed?” Chances are they are allowed, but take time to read up on things and / or talk to the wide variety of professionals who work in the deathcare sector. Those people could be (in no particular order):
    • End of life planning educator
    • Funeral director
    • Death doula
    • Life-cycle Celebrant
    • Religious leader
    • Cemetery representative
  3. Record your wishes. Once you’re feeling confident with your choices, write them out or prepare an audio / video recording of you naming your decisions. When completed, place them together with any other EOL planning material you have (ie: with your Will, with your Advanced Care Planning instructions or in a special binder or folder that is clearly labeled).
  4. Inform the “need to know” people in your life of your wishes. When my parents completed their EOL plans they shared them with my sisters and I. This created an opportunity for all of us to have conversations about what their plans were. As a result of those conversations (there wasn’t just one!), some of their plans actually changed a bit. They grumbled about having to re-do some of their work but ultimately they realised that their survivors will be the ones who will be enormously impacted by their decisions.
  5. Plan for the financial cost. In your research from step #2, you probably started getting an idea of how much your choices were going to cost. You might have even been surprised at the significant fee differences from one firm to another or from one cemetery to another. Don’t be afraid to shop around! It’s important that you choose what is the best fit for you with regards to prices, services and shared values with any professional you might be hiring. 
  6. Pay for the plan. When my friend DM had her EOL plans together she asked me how she could pay for the services she would need. I suggested two different avenues for her:
    • Put money aside in her own private accounts based on today’s prices (or purchase a life insurance policy that would be used to pay for deathcare costs), or
    • Pre-pay with a trusted funeral provider for those services.

End of life planning is a process. It’s not something you’re going to accomplish all in one go. It’s also something that may change over time. That’s ok! Just update your plans as circumstances change and know that when the time comes, all of your hard work will allow your survivors to just be in their grief without having to make all of the many decisions while in a vulnerable state.


Interesting fact: in BC, families are not obligated to use funeral providers to care for their dead. It can all be done by family / friends. They could also choose to hire a funeral provider to only do the deathcare work that they wouldn’t want to do (ie: registering a death or completing all necessary documentation for the cemetery or crematorium). 




For more information on this or anything else, please contact Ngaio or Emily at 604-324-8285 or visit 





Further References:

* view CIFSA laws at this link   (regulation outlining who has the right to control disposition)

**Link to learning about Aquamation 

**Link to blogs on Aquamation

***Link to green burial

***Link to Natural Organic Reduction






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