Creating an end-of-life plan isn’t top of mind for most people, but it’s incredibly important. Not only does it ensure your wishes will be respected when the time comes, it will also take pressure off your friends and family during a difficult time.
Estate planning is a key way to put such a plan in place, and it’s a good idea to talk with your attorney and financial advisor to ensure whatever you put together is financially and legally secure. But to help you get started, this end-of-life checklist gives you a rundown of some key things you’ll have to think about when it comes to estate planning and other important decisions to make.
YOUR WILL AND TRUST
Your will is a document that outlines your wishes following your death and can be used to distribute any assets you have. However, many people use a trust rather than a will to distribute assets. If you don’t have a will and/or a trust, work with your advisors to create one. If it’s been a while since you wrote your will, review it so that you are certain it’s up to date. Ask yourself: Are all your major assets included in your trust? Do you wish to make any changes to how your property will be split?
On a similar note, it’s important to review your bank accounts, brokerage accounts, retirement accounts, life insurance policies and certain annuities to ensure that you have designated beneficiaries on each account or policy. Beneficiary designations trump what’s in a will, so it’s good to make sure they work with your estate plan. You should also review your designations periodically to ensure that they still reflect to whom you wish to leave those assets.
POWERS OF ATTORNEY
Your medical or health care power of attorney is the person you trust to make medical decisions on your behalf if you are unable to do so yourself, such as if you are incapacitated or unresponsive. Along the same lines, consider creating a living will that outlines what kind of medical treatments you do or don’t want to receive in the event you become incapacitated. In addition, a financial power of attorney can make financial decisions and handle your financial affairs during your life if you’re unable to do so.
Make sure your loved ones know where to find important documents and items that they may need in the days after your passing. A few examples include your will, information about accounts, life or other insurance policies you have, the deeds or titles to things you own (like your home or car) — really any important financial paperwork. Consider creating a “Where to Find” file or spreadsheet that lists out the locations of these types of items.
Keep a record of the online usernames and passwords for any logins you may have. This should include financial accounts, social media, email or any other places that you think your loved ones may need to log in for you. Keep the list in a safe place. This can help your family as they handle your affairs. For both your paperwork and your passwords, it’s important to make sure people can find this information should they need it. But make sure you’re also safeguarding it enough that it doesn’t fall into the hands of the wrong person.
Some social media accounts allow you to specify your wishes for what happens to your account after you’re gone. In other cases, your family will need to notify the social platform. Options typically include deleting the account or memorializing it, which typically freezes your account as is, preventing it from being hacked in the future.
If your legacy is important to you, then you need to take the time now to plan for that legacy. Some steps include writing your own obituary, planning your last rites and funeral service, outlining your wishes for your final disposition (whether burial or cremation), and even recording a video or writing a message for your loved ones to be delivered after your passing.
Consider compiling a list of anyone that you think should be contacted and notified of your death. This should include anyone listed in your will, as well as other family members and friends. Other individuals to consider include your attorney, business associates and social organizations that you may belong to.
Finally, it’s important to consider what will happen to your pets after your death. Ideally, you’ll designate a caregiver who will become your pet’s next owner. This should be someone who will respect your wishes in terms of caring for your pet, as well as someone who will gladly accept the responsibility. If your pet requires any special care, such as medications, it’s also important to provide those details.