Getting Your Affairs in Order: An End of Life Planning Checklist
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Nobody wants to think about what happens to their life’s work after they die. The idea of having to face your own mortality is difficult. It’s even more difficult to then have to go ahead and plan what happens after you pass away, but it’s important to do. Whether you are getting up there in years, joining the military, or just living life day to day, it’s a good idea to have some of your affairs in order.
A good plan can make the lives of your loved ones much easier when you do pass away. Instead of having to go through mountains of paperwork, they can spend the time grieving and getting the support they need. To help you get all of your affairs in order, here is a useful checklist to start planning for your end of life finances (and other matters).
End of Life Plans: Decisions You Need to Make
There are a lot of decisions you’ll need to make for when you pass away, whether you have a spouse or not. A good place to start is by creating your will.
Wills, Living Wills, and Advanced Directives
A will is a legal document that lays out your wishes about your assets and responsibilities. This can include things like your home, money, cars, and also non-assets, like any minor children and what happens to your body.
If you don’t leave a will after you pass away, it will fall to the government and court system to split up your possessions, often giving half of the assets to a spouse, and the other half to children — after using those assets to settle any debts.
Wills: The traditional will most are familiar with is called a “last will and testament.” This is a legal document that dictates what happens to your assets upon your death. It can be as complicated or simple as you would like, as long as it doesn’t straight up contradict itself. You could list who receives every single possession you have, or make a blanket statement saying everything you own goes to your spouse or children. A valid will must be written down and signed by both you and a witness.
Most other forms of wills, including verbal agreements or a will that isn’t signed by a witness, do not hold up in court and often result in the state handling a person’s estate.
Living Wills: A living will has little to do with a person’s financial assets, debts, or material matters, and more with how they want to be treated in the event that they can no longer care or advocate for themselves. This can include who they want to be treated by leading up to passing away, or other situations like being on life support or in a coma.
Advance Directives: Along that same topic, an advanced directive gives somebody the power of medical attorney over you if you are incapacitated. This can be in addition to your living will, to help enforce it, or to make decisions that maybe your living will didn’t cover.
Whenever creating any type of will or advanced directive, be sure to fill out the correct paperwork and have it look over by a trained professional (usually an attorney). A single mistake could void the entire will.
Many major decisions that must be made after your death concern what to do with your remains. If there is a specific way you want your remains handled (such as burial or cremation), you need to specify in your will what you want. If you don’t, it will be left to your family to decide what to do.
Donating Remains: If you would like to use your remains to help others, either by donating your organs to others in need, or by donating your body to science/medical schooling, these decisions need to be made now. To donate your organs at the time of your death, you need to register with your state’s organ donor registry, and the next time you renew or get your driver’s license or ID, check “yes” to say that you would like to be an organ donor. If you want to donate your body to science, contact local science or medical institutions, especially at universities, to find how to do it.
Funeral Planning: You might also want to make arrangements and plan out your funeral ahead of time. If there are specific things you want in the funeral, you might want to include it as part of your will. If not, you can create a non-legal document to detail what you want. Depending on what sort of service you prefer, this may impact how you arrange for your remains to be handled.
You can also pre-purchase or pick out things like a plot of land for your grave, your headstone, a casket, and more. Funerals can get very expensive, so by planning ahead, you can get better deals and help your family not have to pay as much upfront costs. Another way you can help is to create a funeral fund and contribute some money regularly to pay for the event, especially if you don’t have life insurance that could cover it.
End of Life Documents
A big portion of what happens after your life ends is in documents. Your family is going to spend hours, if not days, reading over and filling out complex forms. The more you can prepare for them, the easier it will be for your loved ones. Keep all of your documents in an easy to access area and make sure a few family members know where they are.
Power of Attorney
We’ve already talked about having both a will and living will, but there are more important documents your family needs. One of the most important documents you need to fill out, file, and keep a copy of, is who gets your power of attorney. This can include your advanced directive, but also management of your assets. This person will be in charge of handling everything after you pass away and make sure your will is carried out. If there is no will, then this person is in charge of controlling and handling your assets after you pass away.
Health, Life, and Funeral Insurance
Another important type of documents your family will need covers your different kinds of insurance. If you spent time in a hospital leading up to your death, there will be medical bills to pay and your family will need to be able to contact your health insurance provider to pay them. Do you plan on having life insurance at the time you pass away? Keep all of that information accessible.
Accounts and Passwords
Finally, keep a log of any and all recurring payments/debts/accounts you have, along with usernames/passwords/information they’ll need to access them. This includes magazines, utilities, bank accounts, mortgage, and more. You might even want to include information to social media accounts. That way, family can easily cancel, modify, or take over any accounts you have open.
Some of the most important information your family will need is access to financial accounts. That includes your banking/savings accounts at the bank, your 401K, and stocks or bonds you own, social security, and deeds to anything big you own. Yes, they would eventually get access to these assets eventually, but keeping them organized in a single place with information on how to access them makes it much easier.
It’s Not Fun, But Power Through It
Planning for your eventual passing isn’t fun, but it’s something you need to do. Don’t leave your loved ones tons of difficult tasks to do alongside grieving over you. Do the work, get all of your affairs in order, and then spend some time hugging your family. You might even want to meet with a financial advisor or end of life planner to help with the process.
Don’t ignore the sentimental side also. Alongside all of those important documents and legal paperwork, write a letter to your family telling them how much you love them. Messages like that can help make a difficult situation easier to handle.
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Ben Allen is a freelance content creator and digital marketer who believes in helping small businesses succeed. He spends his free time bragging about his two daughters, eating stuffed crust pizza, and playing video games.
This post was updated February 13, 2018. It was originally published January 16, 2018.