Make your end-of-life plans now

My mother said she didn't want her children to go through with her what we had to with our father.

Let's face it: We put off the conversation. It's not easy. But it's really important -- for the sake of those around you -- that you discuss the many details that you'd typically never think about, from life support to feeding tubes. Dad's condition meant he had to be fed through a tube in his stomach to keep him going -- something Mom had never considered.

Hospitals often have nurse hotlines or social workers who can help. So ask for a discharge planner or social worker to educate you about options.

For help thinking through these important decisions now, Florida-based Aging With Dignity has a document titled "Five Wishes" that covers related concerns, issues and questions.

Shop your costs

This one's especially touchy, because everyone has different views about how to care for a loved one after death. And your friends and relatives may quickly impart their own opinions about how you should handle things, even suggesting that going the less-expensive route may be wrong. All the more reason to talk things through in advance.

Be mindful of costs: Companies know there are profits to be made amid your grief. My dad wanted his remains cremated, and the costs ranged from a high of $3,500 down to $700. You might just be paying for posh buildings. We found a place that was on the reasonable side, at $700, handled the services on its grounds and provided both pickup and delivery of the remains -- something few did.

Review long-term care insurance needs

Many people, my mother included, have paid a hefty price for long-term care insurance. "If there's one thing I would've changed there," she said, "it's the 90-day waiting period." (How much will long-term care cost? Check MSN Money's calculator.)

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But shortening the waiting period so your coverage begins in, say, 30 days, comes with a much higher premium, as one insurance agent told me. If you have limited means, the best policy is usually the one with a 90-day waiting period and a lifetime benefit, but the waiting period can be a real trauma for some.

However, there are ways to make the waiting period start sooner. State Farm's insurance policies, for example, count even just one hour of care on one day as the beginning of your waiting period, so long as the patient cannot perform two of six daily living activities.

The loss of a loved one is hard enough. By planning ahead, you can focus more on your family and less on the logistics and financial aspects.