End-Of-Life Planning How-To Guide And Checklist

Planning for the end of your life is essential, but it doesn’t mean it’s simple. From a practical point of view, end-of-life planning means you’re taking a massive weight off the shoulders of your loved ones. The security an estate plan provides you and your loved ones is much more than you may think. 

In some instances, a Will may not be enough, and you may need a more robust estate plan which includes your end-of-life wishes to protect your family and guard your legacy.

What Is End-Of-Life Planning

Before death, it’s very common for people to become incapacitated and unable to communicate their medical and financial wishes. Your end-of-life plan formalizes your medical and financial wishes in writing in the event that you can no longer communicate with your loved ones. In doing so, you take the burden of making tough decisions off of your loved ones.

What Does End-Of Life-Planning Include?

End-of-life planning includes a few things, such as end-of-life care preferences and how medical interventions should be handled. It can be uncomfortable to think of the end of your life, but you will feel a sense of relief once your plan is in place. In addition, it will ensure your wishes are taken care of so your family and loved ones don’t have to make tough decisions on your behalf. This fact also makes planning worth your time, regardless of how difficult it may be. To make this process easier, think of it as your last gift to your family and loved ones.

Why Is An End-Of-Life Plan Important?

An end-of-life plan is important because it makes your final wishes official and eases the burden on your loved ones. When you reach the end stages of your life, the people closest to you are left with difficult emotions to navigate and deal with. 

end of life planning

People may experience sadness, anger, and confusion, and different family members may have different beliefs as to what would be best for you at the end of your life and at the time of your passing.

With an end-of-life plan, you can relieve some of your loved one’s stress and protect your legacy. You can also manage your end-of-life stages and maintain control while you’re still able to. For example, if you’ve been diagnosed with a terminal illness, making decisions for your future now can give you some control when life seems uncontrollable.

How To Have Planning Discussions With Your Loved One

Having a conversation with your family about your end-of-life plan is difficult, but you shouldn’t put it off. This conversation can be especially stressful if you’ve recently faced a challenging diagnosis.

Planning the conversation will help you navigate the discussion and help it go by faster. Below are a few steps you may take to help ease into the conversation:

  • Engage with your loved ones. You should make eye contact and remain sympathetic but firm.
  • Keep the conversation very fact-based.
  • Make sure your family knows that you’re expecting a lot from them, and they should try their best to understand and respect your wishes.
  • Often, family members want reassurance that you understand what you’re asking of them. So be patient with them, and make sure they understand you’re of sound mind and have deeply thought about your decisions.
  • Give your family some time. Even though you have come to terms with the end stages of life, your loved ones likely have not and need time to process the situation.

Tips For Making End-Of-Life Planning Easier On Your Family

Families typically have a difficult time accepting your end-of-life decisions. If you are experiencing this, you can do a few things.

  • Bringing family to your next doctor’s appointment can help them understand what your future looks like and may help them understand and accept your end-of-life plan.
  • You should formalize your end-of-life plan by putting it into writing. You should talk to your loved ones often and remind them that death is a very normal part of life. The more you formalize your future, there’s a better chance that your family will come to terms with your decisions. This won’t always be easy, but talking about it can help move your loved ones through the grief process.
  • Check-in with your family. Discussing your end-of-life plan shouldn’t be a one-time conversation. Instead, you should express your understanding of how difficult it must be for them.
  • Keep in mind that plans change – which is okay. Even well put together plans can change out of our control. You should let your family know that you’re trusting the process even if this doesn’t go exactly as planned.

A Helpful End-Of-Life Planning Checklist

Once you have an end-of-life plan in place to communicate to your loved ones, you can be comforted with the fact that you’ve done everything you can.

Below you will find a checklist that will ensure you have a robust end-of-life plan:

  • A Will, Trust, Medical Power of Attorney, Financial Power of Attorney, HIPAA Waiver, Living Will, etc.
  • Choose between a Living Trust or Last Will and Testament
  • Prepare a list of all of your assets. This includes bank accounts, real estate, retirement accounts, investment accounts, etc.
  • Determine your end-of-life housing plan
  • Write down your wishes regarding burial arrangements and funeral plans.
  • Create an obituary or death notice

1. Prepare Your End-Of-Life Planning Documents

You may feel a bit overwhelmed when you begin end-of-life planning, but it’s normal. Once you begin the process, you will see that it’s not as complicated as you may have thought. Knowing what you need ahead of time is helpful, and you’ll feel more confident once you have a plan of action. A few documents you may need are:

Living Trust: A Trust allows you to manage your estate during your lifetime and after you pass away.

Living Will: This makes sure your medical wishes will be followed if you become incapacitated and cannot express your wishes independently.

Last Will and Testament: This document specifies how your assets should be handled after passing, who you appoint as your personal representative, names a guardian for any minors, and more. It’s important to note that a Will does not avoid Probate. Instead, it is your ticket to Probate court. If you wish to avoid probate, you should consider a Living Trust.

Powers of Attorney: Medical and Financial Power of Attorney documents appoint someone as your agent who will make medical and financial decisions on your behalf if you’re unable to on your own.

Organ Donor Designation: Specifies any organ donations you would like to make upon your death.

2. Decide Between A Will Or Trust

Many people believe that Trusts are only for the wealthy, but this is not the case. Trusts are used for protection and privacy for yourself and your loved ones. When a Trust holds your estate, your loved ones bypass the costly, time-consuming public court process.

Probate is the process by which the court distributes your assets according to your Will, and the entire process is public.

If you’re still unsure if you should use a Will or a Trust, you can think of a Will being the simpler route as Trusts can be a bit more complex. The main difference between the two is that a Trust avoids Probate and a Will does not. Also, a Will doesn’t become effective until you pass. A Trust goes into effect as soon as it’s created and places your assets into it. If you ever become incapacitated, the person you appointed as the Trustee of your Trust can manage your assets. Both are good options for end-of-life planning, but you should speak with an experienced Estate Planning Attorney to help you determine which is best based on your unique situation.

Use a Will to:

  • Name a guardian for minor children
  • Plan any final arrangements
  • Specifies how you want your assets distributed

Trusts are good for:

  • Providing stronger control over the distribution of your assets
  • Maintaining financial privacy
  • Planning for any final arrangements
  • Avoiding probate (A Will goes through Probate, Trusts do not)

3. List Your Assets

Assets are items that you will pass down to your family. Your assets can vary greatly depending on what you’ve acquired throughout your life. Below you will find a few examples of assets that you may want to include in your end-of-life plan.

  • Bank accounts
  • Cash, CD’s
  • Real estate and/or land
  • Investments, stocks, and bonds
  • Retirement accounts/pensions
  • Life insurance policies
  • Antiques, art, collectables
  • Jewelry

4. Determine End-Of-Life Housing

Housing is an important aspect of end-of-life planning. If you’re in a place where you need to start considering end-of-life housing, there are a few things that can help you throughout the process. The first step is determining what kind of housing you think you may need. This will help decide what questions you’ll need to ask and what you’ll need to think about it. Some types of end-of-life housing are assisted living facilities, nursing homes, or in-home care.

If you’re considering assisted living, you’ll want to look into all the amenities it offers, what services are available, and what type of medical care it provides. If you tour the facility, it will give you a good idea of how inviting the place is, how the other residents are, and if the meals appeal to you.

If you’re considering a nursing home, you need to consider your current needs and your needs for the future. Nursing homes typically offer around-the-clock care as opposed to assisted living facilities, and the care is typically more intensive. In addition, you’ll want to consider the layout of the building, what the rooms look like if there are common areas for group activities, and how many nursing stations are in the building.

In-home care is always a good option, but it is a different experience. First, you’ll want to consider how comfortable you will be with a caregiver in your own home. With in-home care, finding a good fit is very important in this scenario.

5. Decide On Funeral And Burial Arrangements

Preparing your plans for your funeral and burial arrangements ahead of time is a large aspect of end-of-life planning. It will also relieve some sadness and stress off your loved ones because they won’t have to take on the daunting task after you pass away. Creating plans for your final resting and saying goodbye to your family can put a lot of weight on your family’s shoulders. If you establish your plans ahead of time, you’ll ease the burden. When creating your plans, consider your religious beliefs and how you would want your loved ones to say goodbye to you.

Below you will find a few types of funerals:

  • Traditional Service: Traditional services usually occur in a church or funeral home. They are also known as “full service.”
  • Viewing and Visitation: This is usually an open casket for a set time.
  • Wake: This is typically a gathering at home, usually before a more formal service.
  • Memorial Service: Typically, a service happens after a burial or cremation.
  • Celebration of Life: A type of service that allows loved ones to pay tribute to the deceased in a personal way.
  • Committal/Graveside Service: Typically a brief service that may occur after a funeral and often includes prayers and flowers.
  • Scattering of Ashes Ceremony: This is common after cremation. When you scatter the ashes, it can be somewhere special to the deceased or elsewhere.

There are also several options for types of burials:

  • In-Ground: Your loved one is laid to rest in a cemetery which is one of the traditional choices.
  • Above Ground: With this option, the body or ashes will be placed in a mausoleum, a structure used for burial.
  • Cremation: The process of disposing of a body by reducing it to chemical components through combustion (burning).
  • Natural Burial: Natural burials allow the body to decompose and naturally recycle back into the earth.

6. Create Obituary and Death Notice

In most cases, obituaries are written after someone has passed away and isn’t always necessary when end-of-life planning. However, it doesn’t have to be left until then. Some people choose to write their obituary and death notice. Still, others opt to have a conversation with family members or friends explaining what they would like to include in their obituary when the time comes.

With a death notice, you’ll want to include information like your full name, other names you may be known as (for example, a maiden name or nickname), the date of death, names of surviving family members, and details about the service or funeral. You may include the cause of death. However, it is your decision and is not required. If you wish for people to donate money to a charity in your honor, you may list the name of the charity.

End-Of-Life Planning Summary

Facing your own death is difficult, but thinking about it and planning for it will help give you a clear mind and ease any discomfort that you may have in the process. Even though death is an uncomfortable and sad time for many, your loved ones can be comforted knowing that you’ve prepared your final wishes as much as you can to help them through their loss. To get started on creating your estate and end-of-life plan, give us a call at (248) 613-0007 to schedule a consultation with an experienced Estate Planning Attorney, today.

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