How to Prepare for Death – 7 Essential Steps for Planning Your Affairs
We get it: no one really wants to think about death and dying. Imagining your own passing or that of a partner, parent, or even child is unpleasant. However, the result of ignoring this reality of life could make the grieving process worse.
For all of the information and apps we have available in the 21st century, most of us don’t prepare for death in any way. In fact, recent studies show that fewer than 50% of adults have any sort of will in place. Even worse, nearly 75% of adults don’t have anything ready if something tragic were to happen.
In this article, we will discuss the following features of an after-death plan:
- Why you need it
- The must-have documents
- What goes into an effective plan
- Why you need to communicate
We believe that by preparing for these events long before they happen, people won’t be nervous about discussing these details with their loved ones.
The Importance of Creating a Complete Plan
Depending upon the state of someone’s life affairs when they pass away, it can take well over 500 hours to wrap up all of the after-death details. That is precious time people should spend with their families and feelings, not on the phone with banks, credit card companies, and governmental agencies.
When you create an end-of-life plan filled with information about your wishes, preferences, and desires, you’re helping your loved ones by reducing their stress and anxiety about what to do after you’re gone. You are giving them the gift of grieving your passing, instead of them worrying about how they’re going to tie up all your loose ends.
4 Essential Documents
Any after-death plan must contain the following four elements. They provide crucial details about what you want to occur in the time leading up to your passing.
Known by some as an “advance directive,” a living will is a chronicle of decisions you’ve made about what should happen to you before you die in case you can’t communicate. This includes the following important details:
- The type of care you want, especially whether you want home, hospice, or palliative care
- The types of treatments you approve to keep you alive, such as breathing tubes, surgery, feeding tubes, etc.
- Quality of life, AKA whether you want to be kept alive long-term by machines
- The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) tells health care providers what people have specific access to your medical information.
- Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) tells health care professionals that you do not want to receive CPR to save your life
- Physician’s Order for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST) informs healthcare providers what specific treatments you want
- Whether or not you want to be an organ donor
- How you want your body to be cared for and treated after you die
Health Care Power of Attorney
In short, this document details exactly who can make decisions for you about the details outlined in your living will if you are unable to do so.
Durable Power of Attorney
This document gives explicit approval to the person who will make all important financial decisions about your estate before you die. This person will also be responsible for paying your bills and any other related issues.
You can give health and durable power of attorney to the same person or two different people. We often recommend two different people when possible to alleviate the stress of one person being responsible for everything.
Last Will and Testament
The most commonly understood document on this list, this one outlines what happens to your belongings after you die. This includes elements such as:
- Estate, including all your finances, assets, property, debts, and more
- Dependents, as any minor-aged children will need protection
- Pets, as your animals will need care
We recommend that you speak with a lawyer to create your last will and testament, as there are legal ramifications to your decisions that can best be addressed by an expert.
Our How to Prepare for Death Checklist
If you’ve taken care of those documents, then you’re well on your way to assembling a comprehensive plan that will leave you with a sincere peace of mind. But you’re not done yet! You still have to take care of three more elements that aren’t necessarily addressed by medical and legal documents.
In order to have an effective last will and testament, you need to make some preparation before you meet with an attorney. You should make firm decisions about the following aspects of your estate:
- Executor – who will take care of the terms of your last will and testament
- Assets – the details of your home, property, auto, etc.
- Debts, expenses, taxes, etc. – what you owe and anything else that counts against your estate
- Life Insurance – the terms of monetary remuneration upon your passing
- Social Security – any and all government benefits and payments
- Beneficiaries – who receives anything contained in your will or from your life insurance
- Trusts – any special arrangements you make for minor dependents to receive money, goods, or property upon reaching a certain age or accomplishment
Your attorney will be able to prepare any and all relevant documents about this information, but it’s up to you to decide what happens.
These days, unless you’re an absolute hermit, there is a record of you online. That means you will need help administrating your digital presence after you pass away. While there aren’t any formal documents that help with assembling this information, we recommend starting with the following:
- Login Details – all of your usernames and passwords for any online portal or service you use
- Social Media – specific instructions about what should happen to your various profiles
- E-mail – specific instructions about what to with your account, as this is often a primary point of contact for the many services you use
In short, if you’ve ever set up any sort of profile online for any sort of service, you need to provide specific instructions on what you want to be done with that account. It would help if these instructions are written down and notarized in case one of those online companies gives your family trouble about closing it.
In the immediate hours and days following your passing, your family will be wracked with grief and consoling each other. Planning the details of your own funeral lifts an immense psychological burden off of them.
- End of life wishes – choose between burial, cremation, or donating to science
- Ceremony – select the type of event, whether religious, funeral, wake, memorial, or something of your own design
- Music – determine the songs (if any) you want to have played
- Pallbearers – the people tasked with carrying your casket as it leaves the funeral home
- Guests – the people you definitely want to attend (and those you and your family don’t)
Sure, no one really wants to think about what happens after they die, but you know best how you want to be remembered.
Communication is the Key for Your After-Death Plan
It is essential that you communicate your wishes with people. Specifically, we recommend telling specific people about your choices, namely your partner and those you want to receive your health and durable power of attorney.
All those documents you collected earlier? You need to tell someone where they are, especially if they’re in a safe deposit box or other secure location. All those decisions you made about your estate, social media, and funeral? You should tell someone about them (or least where they can find a written document with that information).
Additionally, legal documents only capture so much. Many people think they can denote to their estate lawyers exactly which family member gets a certain family heirloom, but those type of specifics are never detailed in a legal document like a last will and testament. That’s why it’s essential that you create handwritten instructions to loved ones that go beyond the “legally important assets.”
Ultimately, if you’re going through all the trouble of doing all this work long before you die, you should talk to your close family members about it. Not only do they deserve some insight into your intentions and plans, but they also shouldn’t be shocked by what you decided on top of dealing with your death.
The point of making end-of-life plans is to lower your family’s stress and give them peace of mind that everything will eventually be OK.