Seniors & Aging

“Who’s my thanatologist?…My what?”

Some bright guru exclaimed: “Dying’s part of living.” No kidding, guru!

Sure, being dead isn’t part of living, but getting ready for it certainly should be, of course. It’s the same kind of idea as carefully planning and preparing for life’s other major events, like parenting, careering, the kids’ weddings, furnishing the house, retirement, and vacations. Prepping for dying just is more complicated and more emotional than some other events, right?

Yes, I know, you’ve planned for dying, too. You deserve credit for creating an estate plan, however inadequate, flawed, and obsolete, for buying cemetery lots, for updating the life insurance and retirement plan beneficiaries and pay-on-death designations, and even for inking your own autobiographical obituary. And cheers to wise you for realizing that the better you plan, the better off the family will be.

You’ve even consulted your own team of advisors: The lawyer, the pastor, the kids, Beloved, and the life insurance agent, your end-of-life-prep team. That’s great. Nice going!

But, know what? A whole lot more ideas and prep wisdom can come from a corps of other advisors that we didn’t think of, and we can welcome to that team. Except for one or a few, they can be the same helpers that shepherd us through our estate planning and our daily “me-enterprise” business. For example, they can include our neighborhood financial planner/wealth manager, grief counselor, health care provider and case manager, accountant, banker, property insurance professional, realtor, social worker, funeral director, property appraiser, family life counselor, mental health professional, long-term care and hospice ombundsmen, professional fiduciary, legacy letters coach, been-through-it-all friends and neighbors …and the thanatologist.

“OK, wise guy Gary, my thanatologist?…My what?” The thanatologist, the label derived from the Greek word “thana”, meaning “death”, is a professional advisor about everything personal, cultural, emotional, religious, financial, and psychological that’s involved in getting ready to die.

The profession of thanatology is a welcome emerging and growing product of our ever-increasingly complex, advanced, information-rich society, necessitating practitioners in more and more specialties. Typically, thanatologists are credentialed, experienced practitioners already engaged in a related profession, such as social work, psychology, counseling, teaching, pastoring, and funeralities.

Some achieve Certified Thanatologist designation, sponsored by the Association for Death Education and Counseling, the profession’s recognized international professional society. Applicants can become CT’s after years of experience, intense study to pass two challenging series of rigorous post-graduate-level exams, and positive community endorsement. And, as with other professional disciplines, they must maintain and update their knowledge and ethical standards via continuing education and qualification.

Some universities offer thanatology curricula. A CT designation in thanatology is the equivalent of a PhD in education, LLD in law, CPA in accounting, and CFP in personal finance.

Please don’t feel stupid or deprived because you don’t know your neighborhood thanatologist. You’re forgiven and exonerated, because, except for a very few, and even fewer CTs, there isn’t one…yet! But, there’s good news for us who are deprived of the benefit of thanatological wisdom:

A while ago, Gail Rubin, CT, noticed one of my column segments on the Internet, and contacted me. Talk about newness -- That’s how even I learned about thanatologists. Now you and I both know.

Since then I’ve been following her website postings and writings, and confidently and enthusiastically can recommend the treasury of profoundly helpful information and guidance offered to us there, in friendly, even humorous, style. We even can dialogue with her there. It’s almost like having a neighborhood CT after all, despite the fact that her neighborhood is 2,500 miles from here.

I have no financial connection with Ms. Rubin or her works; I just think they’re awesomely helpful for all of us.

Her brand new book, “Kicking The Bucket List -- 100 Downsizing & Organizing Things To Do Before You Die”, now available at Amazon and described on the website, is what inspired the theme of today’s column. Think you’ve thought of everything? Are the exhaustive lists in my courses and minibooks complete? Ha! Just wait’ll you see some of hers, such as:

Get a free cremation; Use hospice sooner, not later; Shop BEFORE you drop; Identify your digital executor; Make a pet trust; Write your family history; Make auto arrangements; Don’t keep relatives’ stuff; Digitize what you can; Prune back the photographs; Liberate yourself from your stuff.

See what I mean? And all one-hundred-plus are explained and amplified in conversational style and delightfully illustrated.

While we’re exploring the world of personal planning team- member candidates: Students and readers ask me how they can decide whether an individual would be a desirable team member. Other than the number one criterion, field-of-knowledge competence and our need for their specific knowledge, it might be helpful to cite the outline of selection criteria that’s in our estate planning seminar syllabus:

Helpers: Choosing the right ones. Factors:

Volunteers: Helpers vs. not-so-helpers: Being a family member or friend isn’t enough. Why? Self-interest: Bias, emotions, inheritance hopes, greed, personal problems that interfere, temptation. Conflict of interest -– Personal gain vs. objectivity. Not right skills or up-to-date current knowledge. Weak or no strong motivation to do the job ultra well. Unavailability or reluctant when needed. Disharmony, conflict, aloofness with other loved ones. Age, health -- Doubtful to be viable years from now.

Professionals: Better for many tasks. Knowledge, experience, clout, and fees, continuity, together produce good results, time-saving, stress-relief, objectivity, better solutions, and maybe less cost -- if properly selected.

Selection credentials: Referrals / recommendations. Existing and long-standing relationships. The right skills, specialties. Charisma –- Helper really understanding the client. Charisma -- Client really understanding the helper. Rapport -- Feel comfortable working together. Concurrence –- About the work plan and fees.

Sometimes we need to seek out the guidance of someone having expert knowledge about, and tips on what to do with, just one narrow, very unique, single topic. For example, Uncle Joe’s 1930’s comic book collection.

And, of course, you’re about to e-mail me to suggest that the characteristic that overrides and needs to be a part of all the criteria: Sound judgment -- common sense -- which isn’t so common. And you’ll certainly be right.

Contact Gary Newman at Your ideas and comments are always welcome.