No one wants to think about death. However, it’s a part of all of our lives. Taking the right preparatory steps won’t only assure your mind is at ease at the time of your passing but will also ease the minds of your loved ones.
It’s never too early to prepare and assemble important life documents. Such advance-care planning lets loved ones and healthcare providers know your wishes regarding medical care if at any point you’re unable to express your wants. Without these directives, families of loved ones often experience much anxiety and stress in attempting to make decisions, causing a difficult time to be even more difficult.
Putting your affairs in order may not be the most upbeat task, but you’ll feel great comfort and satisfaction once you’ve done it. Life is unpredictable, and it’s never too early to start planning.
To make this task as simple and easy as possible, we’ve outlined exactly what should be done to prepare for the end-of-life process:
Determine a Power of Attorney
Power of attorney (POA) gives another person the right to act on your behalf after you pass or even before you pass if you’re unable to made decisions yourself due to mental or physical incapacity. Your POA should be someone you trust greatly, as they’ll be in charge of all your legal and financial matters after you pass.
Most often, the POA is a spouse, family member, or close friend. It’s also recommended that you choose a back-up POA in case the original person assigned as the POA is unable to fulfill the duties.
The roles of the POA differ based on the state where you reside and the laws that obtain there. Make sure you and your POA understand the details and the government requirements of serving as a healthcare agent.
Prepare an Advance Directive – The Living Will
An advance directive is a written statement detailing your wishes regarding medical treatment. The most common advance directive is a Living Will, which is a document that assures your wishes will be followed even if you’re unable to communicate them.
The greater the detail in your Living Will, the more likely it is that your wishes will be carried out. Some of the possible care options to address in a Living Will include:
- Tube feeding
- Mechanical ventilation
- Organ donation
- Palliative care
A do-not-resuscitate (DNR) or do-not-intubate (DNI) order doesn’t need to be included in a Living Will. This can simply be stated to your doctor at any time and recorded in your medical record.
Set Aside Funding to Pay for Funeral Costs, and Be Specific About the Details
The average cost of a funeral these days is roughly $6,500. Setting aside a fund for funeral costs and having a plan as to how these funds should be allocated and by whom will minimize stress on loved ones.
Be explicit about the details: Do you prefer to be buried or cremated? If you wish to be buried, has your burial plot been purchased, and where is it located? If you haven’t chosen a burial plot, where would you like to be buried? Where will the service be held? What kind of headstone or grave marker would you like?
After the details have been determined, roughly estimate the costs and set aside money to cover these costs when the time comes. Look into prepaying for all arrangements, and make sure your loved ones know everything has been prepaid if that’s the case.
Be Sure to Have a Last Will and Testament
A Last Will and Testament decides the fate of all your real property, trusts, and belongings. It also names the person (Executor) in charge of carrying out your wishes as described in your Will. The more assets and beneficiaries you have, the more vital it is to have a Will. Having a detailed Will makes life much easier on your family and assures that no confusion about asset and real property allocation arises after your death.
There are many different kinds of Wills. Some of the most common are:
- Reciprocal/mutual – Reciprocal Wills are often used by married couples or life partners as a simple means of securing the transfer of property to the other spouse/partner upon death. Reciprocal Wills between spouses are basically mirror images of one another. In a reciprocal Will, each spouse/partner leaves all or the majority of their estate to the other.
- Mystic – A Will that remains sealed until the person’s death.
- Solemn – A Will signed by a witness or witnesses and the testator (you as the creator of the Will)
- Unsolemn – A Will in which the executor remains unknown or unnamed.
- Holographic – A handwritten Will that must be signed by hand and have all material terms written by the testator.
- Serviceman’s – The will of a person engaged in active-duty military service
A Will can be set up by a lawyer, by using an online form, or simply by the person himself or herself. The most important aspects to cover include selecting the beneficiaries (who gets what), choosing the Executor (including whether that person will receive compensation for their work), and choosing a guardian if dependents are a factor.
Organize Finances, Life Insurance, Bills, and Debts
Documents that are essential to make known to family members before you pass are any life insurance policies and retirement plans. These assets are often overlooked because Executors and family members don’t realize they exist. If the funds go unclaimed, the State will be the beneficiary.
Create a list of income sources and assets (pensions, IRA, CDs, 401(k)s, etc.). Outline any current investments (including properties) and detail any existing loans. If you have a safety deposit box, include the locations of the box and the key.
If you’re unsure whether all aspects of your finances are in order, consult a lawyer.
Sit Down with the Power of Attorney and Executor to Discuss Your Will
These two people have critical roles to play in your life and your estate, so it’s essential to meet with each one and go over the details of your advance directives and Will. Make sure each one knows their role and that they understand the content of documents relating to finances, assets, and end-of-life directives.
Each time a change to your Will is made, contact the POA and Executor to update them on the changes.
The POA is bound by the document he or she signed to serve as POA and take responsibility for certain actions and decisions. If there’s a misunderstanding or the POA isn’t clear on what you want, a court may have to decide.
Keep All Relevant Records and Documents in a Master File
Once all the above steps are completed, put the relevant documents into a master file and share the location with the assigned Executor and Power of Attorney. Important documents that should be kept in this file include:
- Last Will and Testament
- List of assets
- Birth certificate
- Marriage certificate
- Driver’s license
- Letter of Instruction regarding details about your funeral, elaboration on aspects of your Living Will, etc.
- Divorce/separation papers
- Social security number
- List of income sources
- Written trust
- Car title
- Homeowner deeds