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Confronting the Elephant in the Room: The Importance of Your Estate, Legacy and End-of-Life Planning

By Kathleen M. Rehl May 18, 2023 Lifestyle

If you’re anything like me, there are times when you’d rather put off solving a problem than deal with it immediately. But the problem may become even more difficult if that elephant in the room is avoided.

Legacy, estate, and end-of-life planning are topics that many people choose to ignore or minimize. The consequences of doing nothing can be severe. I know.

When my elderly, widowed aunt passed away without leaving behind current legal documents or advanced directives, my family was left with a terrible mess to clean up. After her untimely death, years of grief, financial difficulties, and intense family distress followed. What a tragic final gift she gave her family. Certainly not a positive legacy.

I wanted to bring fresh attention to this pressing issue, so I wrote the poem below. Be sure to look at the helpful checklist mentioned at the end of the poem as well.

Elephant in the Room

We all know we'll meet our end
But with silence we pretend
That’s not our fate, won’t happen to us
We push it aside with little fuss.
Tiptoeing around the pachyderm
To skirt the end-of-life alarm
Wills, trusts, and directives
Decisions wise but often postponed
Yet, the elephant looms large and tall
Its presence felt by one and all
We hope she’ll pass on by
But death comes, we can’t deny.
Some wait till their final breath
Leaving loved ones to face death
Without a will or care directive
The aftermath can be quite hectic.
It's time to confront the elephant
To plan for the inevitable event
Making decisions that ease the pain
And help loved ones who remain.
Estate planning's more than legal docs
It's your stories, experiences, and hopes
Legacy writing's a gift you can share
That lasts beyond and shows you care.
Our legacy is more than money and things
It's values we hold and memories we bring
Lessons we teach and dreams we share
The mark we leave on the world with care.
Don’t cause heartache, stress, and strife
Or a financial mess afterlife
Take control of what you can
And give loved ones a sound plan.
Before life's final curtain falls
Embrace this checklist, heed its calls
Effective planning is a must
To grant loved ones peace, security, and trust.

If you haven’t yet started organizing your legal documents, I hope this poem will help motivate you to just do it. It’s really not a matter you can keep putting off indefinitely.

Let’s Have a Conversation:

What steps have you taken to address this issue that is often the elephant in the room? Which end-of-life, legacy, and estate planning actions have you completed? What do you want to do next? What else do you think should be on the checklist?

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I can’t stress enough how important this issue is. I was at the hospital when the doctors told me the simple operation my husband was having turned into a complication he wasn’t likely to survive. I realized I didn’t know the first thing to do if he died. What phone call should I make? How was going to deal with everything? I would have been paralyzed by indecision,
Miraculously, he survived. Now we have our plans in place for end of life. I will know what to do. And so will he if I go first. If you don’t want to do it out of love for those you leave behind, then do it for money. It will cost less if you lock in today’s funeral rates. It will surely cost much more later.
What are the chances you’ll die? 100 percent. Do not put this off a day longer. It will sneak up on you.

Kathleen M. Rehl

Thanks for encouraging readers to get their plans in place today for tomorrow. You were wise to act after your “wake up call.”

Sheila Eakle

I also found a book and author who offers support in planning for a secure future.The book is “Solo and Smart “and it has tremendously helped me as a single person without family.
Authors name is Carol Marak.It had an assessment which gave me end of life areas I had dealt with and those that needed my attention. It’s an incredible feeling to have taken care of it all and now I don’t even have to think about it since everything is in place.

Kathleen M. Rehl

Thanks for suggesting this resource, which you found so helpful.


Thank you for the checklist. We have Living Will’s and our Will’s done. We have a list of preferences for personal effects, but had never gone beyond that. The list can keep me focused on completing more tasks. Last year I was in E.R., my heart stopped three times. Each time, everything went black and I passed out. Ever since then, I’ve realized we never know when it will happen and how overwhelmed family will be.

Kathleen M. Rehl

So true. We’re not promised tomorrow. After working on their checklists, many folks have told me they have greater peace of mind knowing their estate, legacy, and end-of-life plans are in place.


Wow, thank you for this checklist. We are 68 and have a 26 year old only child who will be overwhelmed when the time comes to handle everything. I’ve been thinking about this on and off- that in itself is overwhelming. Having this checklist will make it much more real and doable. We think it goes on forever.

Kathleen M. Rehl

Glad you’ll put this checklist to use. It’s a starting point that should help child in the future . . . and you now.

The Author

Kathleen M. Rehl, Ph.D., CFP®, wrote the award-winning book, Moving Forward on Your Own: A Financial Guidebook for Widows. She owned Rehl Financial Advisors for 18 years before an encore career empowering widows. Now “reFired,” Rehl writes legacy stories and assists nonprofits. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Kiplinger’s, CNBC, and more. She’s adjunct faculty at The American College of Financial Services.

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