10 End-of-Life-Documents Everyone Should Have and FAQs About End-of-Life Planning
Life’s challenges are easier to manage when you have a plan. Preparation may not completely remove the emotional burden of loss or stress, but it is one of the greatest gifts you can give your loved ones after you are gone.
A detailed and carefully designed end-of-life plan can also grant you control and agency over your end-of-life care and your estate once you have passed.
Planning for end-of-life care doesn’t have to be complicated, especially with our help. We cover what documents you’ll need and how to obtain them to begin end-of-life planning.
Table of Contents
End-of-Life Document Checklist
#1: Living Will
A living will is one of the most common and necessary end-of-life documents.
It is an advance directive that details your desires regarding medical treatment if you are no longer able to communicate your own wishes. A living will would spell out what medical care a person would or wouldn’t want such as:
- Palliative care
- Tube feeding
- DNR order
Talk with your doctor about what you might expect for end-of-life care to decide what you would like to state in your living will.
It is important to keep your living will readily accessible to your healthcare provider and/or medical power of attorney. If you do not give it to those who can enforce it, your medical treatment will not reflect what is written in your living will.
#2: Last Will and Testament
A last will and testament is a legal document that directs the deposition of your financial and physical assets.
There are four main components of a will:
- Naming an executor: The executor of your will is the individual or entity that carries out your wishes as defined in your will. Your executor can be a family member, close friend, accountant, or lawyer.
- Leaving assets to beneficiaries: Carefully take an inventory of all the financial and physical assets you want to distribute from your estate and name the beneficiaries (recipients) of those assets.
- Nominating guardianship: If you are leaving behind a pet or dependent it is important that you state your choice of guardianship in your will.
- Making charitable gifts: You may want to donate a physical or financial asset to a charity or organization. Explicitly stating this in your will ensures that this donation will be made out of your estate.
A last will and testament will grant you control over your estate after you pass. With no last will your assets would be settled by the court during a process called probate.
Be sure to store your will in an easily accessible place inside a fire-proof safety deposit box. You can also have a copy stored at your attorney’s office.
#3: Revocable Living Trust
A revocable living trust is a legal document that outlines how you want your financial and physical assets to be distributed.
You, as the ‘grantor’ would designate a trustee (an individual or entity), to control your assets for the beneficiaries (recipients of the assets). Unlike an irrevocable trust you can make changes to your revocable trusts and you still legally own your assets.
You will be able to make changes to your trust before your passing. Revocable living trusts bypass the probate process.
#4: Durable Financial Power of Attorney
A durable financial power of attorney is the individual or entity you wish to nominate to take care of your financial responsibilities if you were to be incapacitated.
Where the power of an ordinary power of attorney would expire if you were no longer capable of communicating, a durable power of attorney only expires after your passing or if you revoke power.
Some responsibilities your durable financial power of attorney (or agent) will manage include:
- Paying your bills
- Making bank deposits
- Collecting insurance or government benefits
- Filing and paying your taxes
#5: Durable Medical Power of Attorney
A durable medical power of attorney is the individual or entity you request to handle your medical decisions if you become incapable of making your own.
They will enforce your living will. If you do not have a living will your durable medical power of attorney will make medical decisions on your behalf. Some examples are:
- Palliative care
- End-of-life care
#6: Organ Donor Card
An organ donor card is documentation that states whether you would like to donate any viable organs after you pass. Certain States require different documentation, so it is best to check to see what your state requires if you choose to become an organ donor.
Your organ donor status should also be mentioned in your living will and funeral arrangements. Always keep a copy of your organ donor card on your person and ensure your medical power of attorney and healthcare provider have a copy as well.
#7: Do Not Resuscitate Order (DNR)
A DNR, or Do-Not-Resuscitate Order, is a legal medical statement that allows you to choose whether you want CPR in an emergency. There are many reasons why an individual may or may not want a DNR.
Patients with terminal illnesses might sign a DNR to relieve prolonged suffering. Other patients might choose to sign a DNR in the case that resuscitation will cause brain injury or brain death.
Talk with your doctor if you are interested in learning more about a DNR. For a DNR to be valid, it must be written, dated, and signed by a patient and healthcare provider.
#8: Life Insurance
If you do not have life insurance already, you might consider setting up a policy.
Speak to an insurance agency you trust to discuss policy options and different types of life insurance. Certain life insurance policies and add-ons like burial insurance will be useful in delegating funds to cover the cost of your burial or cremation.
#9: HIPPA Release
HIPAA or Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act is a U.S. law that protects a person’s private medical information. HIPAA keeps an individual’s medical information secure.
A HIPAA release is a legal document that releases your medical information to your agents and power attorney. Without a HIPAA release your power of attorney will not be able to discuss your medical information with a healthcare team.
This document is an essential form if you choose to have a living will or medical power of attorney. Be prepared to detail exactly what information you would like to disclose to your agent.
#10: Funeral Arrangements
Pre-planning your funeral allows you to make specific requests concerning how or where to wish to rest after your passing. There are many small details that go into a funeral or celebration of life.
How would you like to rest? Where would you like to rest? What kind of service would you like?
By customizing your arrangements, you relieve your loved ones of the stress and grief of planning a funeral, giving them more time to grieve. By customizing your funeral arrangements and adding small personal touches to your service, you can provide sentimental comfort to your grieving loved ones.
Funerals can be costly. You relieve stress from financial planning by creating a budget and financial plan. You do not have to prepay to prepare funeral arrangements so you can allocate funds in your trust, last will, or life insurance policy.
FAQs About End-of-Life Planning
What’s the Best Way To Start a Conversation About End-of-Life Planning With My Loved One?
End-of-life planning can be a difficult discussion for everyone involved. You should expect the possibility of your loved one resisting this kind of discussion. Any resistance should be met with patience and compassion. Avoid immediately discussing the end of the process. Show support and first and foremost: be respectful but also:
- Be prepared: Make a list of things you want to address in the conversation. Research options and laws in your area.
- Gather support: You may want to include other relatives in this discussion. It may also be helpful to have someone who has experience with end-of-life planning on the team.
- Organize the discussion: Begin talking about end-of-life care and planning then transition into details regarding the estate and funeral arrangements.
- Emphasize flexibility and control: These decisions are their own to make and you are just helping them navigate the system. At any time, they are allowed to make changes if they want.
Topics To Discuss for End-of-Life Planning
End-life-care: End-of-life care is as important as end of life planning. Ask how you and those close to your loved one can help make their life carry on normally when they are unable to completely do so on their own.
Some questions you might want to ask include:
- Where do you want to live?
- If you were to move, what possessions would you like to take?
- How do you want to get around when you are unable to drive?
- Who do you want to help you with daily tasks?
Your loved one enjoyed their entire life independently. Anyone can have difficulty asking for help, but it is important that you maintain their agency and control when assisting them with these decisions. It will be important to establish who will oversee keeping their medical and financial wishes if a circumstance arises that they cannot consciously make them themselves.
Estate planning: Once an end-of-life care plan has been established, you can ease into discussing how they want their estate managed once they have passed.
Do not go into inheritance. They will make that decision themselves. Instead, talk about setting up a last will and testament and/or a trust. Research with them what kinds of wills and trusts are available and which one your loved one would prefer.
Talk about possibly hiring an attorney to help them sort out any legal concerns or questions regarding end-of-life documents.
Funeral Arrangements: After the more complex financial and legal details of end-of-life planning have been addressed, you can bring up funeral arrangements.
Your loved one probably has a preference in how they want their remains to be handled and what kind of service they would prefer. They may have a certain song they want played or an individual in mind to deliver their eulogy. Allow them to personalize their service as much or as little as they want.
Once the smaller, more personalized details have been sorted you can discuss making a financial plan to pay for the service.
Is There Government Assistance for End-of-Life Planning?
If you or a loved one needs financial assistance when it comes to end-of-life care and planning, here are a few government-assisted programs:
- Medicaid offers an optional state plan that provides medical care to terminally ill end-of-life patients like nursing, palliative care, counseling services, etc.
- Washington Cares Fund is a government assisted program that assists citizens of the state of Washington save for end-of-life care and planning. It works similarly to life insurance where a certain amount of money based on your income is subtracted from your paycheck.
Check out other organizations in your states that provide financial assistance for end-of-life planning.
How Do I Obtain End-of-Life Documents?
Overtaking this task may seem insurmountable but here’s how to easily obtain the necessary end-of-life documents for you or a loved one:
- Living will: Forms and requirements for a living will vary from state to state, check out what form your state requires and if your living will needs to be notarized.
- Last will and testament: You can create your own will or hire an attorney to draft one for you.
- Living trust — After selecting a trustee you can create your own document or hire an attorney. You will need to gather all titles, deeds, stock certificates, and bank account statements to transfer property and assets into the trust. Once a trust has been created you need to sign a trust agreement in front of a public notary.
- Durable financial/medical power of attorney: Find out which laws and forms apply to your state.
- Organ donor card and registration: Depending on your state you can sign up to be an organ donor at the DMV or you can sign up here.
- DNR: Speak with your doctor to procure and sign a DNR.
- Life insurance: Your life insurance provider can provide you with an extra copy detailing what your policy covers.
- HIPPA Release: Releasing medical records without authorization is a HIPPA violation. Obtain a HIPPA release form, make sure you accurately fill it out and detail what medical information you would like your agent to access.
- Funeral Arrangements: Speak with your family or chosen funeral home to help make arrangements. Shop around and see what kind of service you’d like.
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The content in this blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.