COMMENTARY: Don’t leave it to your loved ones.

by Jan 21, 2023OPINIONS0 comments


One Feather Editor


Every so often we have a week or two where the volume of obituaries we receive from our community and readership increases significantly. The past few weeks have been riddled with local people passing, both old and young. With my family and circle of friends, I have reached the age where deaths are not just noticeable, they hurt. They hurt because the longer I live, the more familiar I am with the person who leaves this realm for the next. And each passing reminds me of my own mortality.

Most of us avoid the reality of death, well, like its death. The longer we live, the more we see it and the closer we get to it. Despite the wonderful stories, there either is no Fountain of Youth, or whoever found it is a master at keeping secrets, and they are not sharing. Surely, medical advances have extended our days on the Earth, but the truth is that the mortality rate of mankind is 100 percent. We all have a date with death.

Not to be morbid, but death is a part of life. It is one of those inevitable things that we will deal with in our lives. It is one of those things in life that is a surety, like the old saying goes “Nothing is certain but death and taxes,” No one likes to talk about it. No one likes to contemplate it. No one likes to prepare for it.

“For all of the information and apps we have available in the 21st century, most of us don’t prepare for death in any way. In fact, recent studies show that fewer than 50 percent of adults have any sort of will in place. Even worse, nearly 75 percent of adults don’t have anything ready if something tragic were to happen.” (

When I reached middle-age, I started to have a fascination with the inevitability of dying. Again, not morbid death wish type fascination. I am just a history fan and one of the richest sources of historic information beyond the museums and antique stores are the cemeteries. I think it began because that is the time when many of the family members closest to me started to pass away and as my trips to the cemeteries became more frequent because of funerals, I noticed how much valuable information is told via tombstones.

Those graveyard visits and my subsequent curiosity made it much easier to be comfortable thinking and talking about death. Of course, that hasn’t been well received by those in the family that prefer to keep that type of conversation to a minimum. My wife told me once that she was fine with me making the preparations but she really didn’t need to know about it until it was time. And that is the usual reaction from most folks when the subject of death comes up.

One of those things that you hear a bunch about is called “estate planning”. You may not be doing it, but if you own anything of value and anyone knows about it, you can bet that someone is wondering if they are going to get it when you no longer need it. Having a will is one of those things that you hear talked about among those with plenty of money or stuff. The word conjures visions of a Biltmore Estate-style sitting room with folks in fancy Victorian outfits waiting for an attorney to read “the will”.

As Denzel Washington famously said, “You’ll never see a U-Haul behind a hearse. Now, I’ve been blessed to make hundreds of millions of dollars in my life. I can’t take it with me, and neither can you.”

And sadly, some of the most hurtful and violent family quarrels come at a time that should be a time of deepest grief and at a time when family members need to be able to draw strength from each other. After the person’s passing comes the battle for their worldly possessions. “Who gets their money? Who gets their stuff? Who gets their land?” Thus, the need for some forethought of death.

And how you die should be important to you too. If you don’t preplan for what happens to you in certain medical situations, you will have to leave it to others, family members and in some cases lawyers and courts, to decide what happens to you if you are incapacitated and can’t give instruction to medical care givers. Not only does that take your fate out of your hands, but it could also traumatize your loved ones by saddling them with your life and death decisions unnecessarily.

The will is the most prominent of items that we first think about as we contemplate dying. It may be that selecting and buying a plot (a piece of land as your “final resting place”), your container, your clothing, and the disposition of your body are all things that make you a little uneasy to consider. As you experience that uneasiness, maybe right now as you are reading these words, think about how much more uneasy it will be for your loved ones when, immediately after losing you, they must make all those decisions. Most funeral homes and insurance companies will help you lay out a plan for your funeral arrangements if you contact them with a desire to do so.

Experts tell us that there are four key documents that you should consider having in place to be prepared for the afterlife.

  • First is a Living Well or an Advance Directive to tell your family and those attending you medically about “decisions you’ve made about what should happen to you before you die in case you can’t communicate”, including what type of care you want, types of treatment you approve of, whether you want to be kept alive long-term by machines, organ donation decisions, and care and treatment of your body after you die.
  • Second would be a Health Care Power of Attorney which outlines who can make decisions for your health if you are unable to do so.
  • Third is called a Durable Power of Attorney and it will identify who you want to take care of business, financial, and child custody during your incapacity.
  • Fourth, of course, is the Last Will and Testament that conveys your wishes concerning finances, assets, property, debts, dependent protection, and even pet care. It outlines what happens to your belongings after you die.

The Tribal Legal Assistance program provides guidance regarding end-of-life planning. “The EBCI Legal Assistance Office drafts simple wills, powers of attorney, health care powers of attorney, and advance directives for enrolled members, spouses of enrolled members, first descendants, and tribal employees.”

If you fall into one of the people groups listed, contact the Legal Assistance Office at (828) 359-7400 or email We are fortunate to have great attorneys with excellent expertise at our disposal. It is one less excuse to procrastinate.

And in this case, procrastination may be tragic. As we are seeing in our obituary column, life may end at any stage and age of life. One moment you are feeling fine. The next moment you are on life support. The next moment, your loved ones may be dealing with all those issues that you put off too long.

Leave your loved ones your legacy, whatever that may be. But don’t leave your final affairs to your loved ones. If you love them, don’t put them in the position of making those end-of-life decisions when they are in mourning. If you love them, make your passing as easy on them as possible. The last best thing you can do for them is to have your affairs in order so they may be able to grieve and heal in peace.