Advance-directive planning: The most significant health-care costs occur in a short period just before the end of life. Unfortunately, most people do not discuss with family in advance the care decisions they prefer to be carried out in the event they lose the ability to communicate.
When bad things happen, relatives are often left in the difficult position of second-guessing their loved ones. Because of guilt, families tend to "do more" for the patient. Unnecessary care at the end of life can be both painful and costly.
To mitigate this risk, talk with your family about the type of lifestyle after serious illness that would be important to you. If doctors stated you would never be able to communicate with your family again, would you be OK with that or would you want to be moved from curative to "comfort" care?
Another important lifestyle factor to discuss is, for example, the ability to feed and groom yourself. By sharing your wishes, you ensure your family will be able to verify with the doctor whether the treatment offered would bring back the quality of life you desire. And, of course, document your directives with a living will.
(Read more: Planning retirement? Don't forget Medicare costs)