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End-Of-Life Plan Checklist: Five Steps To Get Your Family Ready

Written by: A. Hollyn Scott, Esq. , Contributing Author
Reviewed by: Jordan Walker, J.D. , Legal Writer
Last updated March 06, 2024

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Planning for the end of your life is an understandably emotional experience, so it isn’t something most people have at the top of their to-do list. While it’s natural to procrastinate getting started with your end-of-life planning decisions, the result of having a well thought out plan in place can bring peace of mind to you and your family.

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For you, an end-of-life plan gives you the power to decide the personal wishes you have for your estate, medical care, financial affairs, and funeral. For your family and friends, an end-of-life plan removes the burden of having to make complex medical and financial decisions during an already difficult time.

Even when you’re ready to start planning for the end of your life, it’s often difficult to know where to start or what to include in your plan. That’s where an end-of-life planning checklist comes in handy. You can use the checklist provided in this article to guide you through the process of planning so you can rest assured that both you and your loved ones are prepared for when you pass away.

1. Plan for Your Assets

Creating a plan for the distribution of your estate after your death is a key component of the estate planning process, and a great place to start on your end-of-life plan checklist. In this section of the checklist, you’ll decide whether to create a will, a trust, or both. You’ll also make a list of all of the assets you want to pass on to family members or loved ones when you pass away. After completing these steps, you should have a solid foundational plan for your assets.

Last Will and Testament

last will and testament is a legal document that states your intentions for how and to whom you want your assets distributed after year death. In this document, you can also appoint an executor to oversee the distribution of your estate and choose a guardian to look after your minor children if something happens to you.

Your will doesn’t take effect until you pass away. It is then submitted to the probate court. Probate is a legal process your will goes through to prove its authenticity and settle your estate. This is a key factor to consider when deciding whether to create a will because the probate process can be costly and time-consuming for your loved ones. Depending on your personal situation, including the size of your estate and whether you have dependents, you may want to avoid probate by creating living trust.

Living Trust

living trust is a document you create during your lifetime that avoids probate and gives you greater control over your finances and assets than a will. If you own property worth $160k or more, you should consider adding a trust to your estate plan.

While it is generally simple to draft a will, creating a trust can be a bit more complicated. As the creator of the trust (the “grantor”), you must transfer all the property you want covered by the trust into the trust. You must also name a “trustee” to manage the trust property according to your directions and for the benefit of the trust’s beneficiaries.

Avoiding probate so that your beneficiaries can more easily access your assets after you pass away is a major advantage of setting up a living trust, but it also offers additional benefits. Unlike your will, which becomes public record once it’s submitted to probate, trusts are private. Also, if you have minor children, you can hold control you can hold money in the trust for them until they are responsible enough to manage it on their own.

Probate and Non-Probate Assets

Whether you decide to create a will or a trust for the distribution of your assets, you need to make a list of all the property you own and the individuals you want to receive it when you die. To ensure your assets are distributed according to your wishes after your death, you must know the difference between probate and non-probate assets and include them in your end-of-life plan accordingly.

Probate assets are the assets distributed by the probate court after your death according to the terms of your will. Examples include bank accounts, credit cards, real estate, family heirlooms, and other personal property.

Non-probate assets are assets that do not pass under your will but are paid directly to beneficiaries upon your death. They include any assets held in the name of a trust, as joint tenants with rights of survivorship, or with a beneficiary designation. Life insurance policies, retirement accounts, pensions, and 401(k)s generally allow you to designate a beneficiary who will receive the asset directly after you pass away. This means that if you name a different person to receive your life insurance benefits in your will than in the policy, the person you designated in the policy will receive the asset.

Creating a list of your assets and where you want them to go after your death allows you to keep track of the property you want to pass on and helps avoid family disputes about how your estate should be distributed when you’re gone. The process of listing your assets may also give you a clearer picture of your estate and help you decide whether to create a will or a trust. Be sure to review your list every so often and revise it to reflect any major life changes.

2. Plan for Your Health Care

Your end of life plan must include instructions for how you want your medical decisions and financial affairs handled if you are ever incapacitated and unable to communicate them yourself. There are a few important documents you can use in your estate plan to ensure your health care and financial decisions are carried out according to your wishes.

Living Will

living will is an estate planning document that outlines your medical treatment and end of life care preferences in the event you unable to communicate them directly, such as if you are in a vegetative state of have a terminal illness. Your living will instructs your health care providers and family members on whether and which life-sustaining medical interventions you do or do not want to receive. With this document in place, you can make certain medical decisions in advance, so your loved ones won’t carry the burden of making painful decisions in an already difficult time.

Durable Health Care Power of Attorney

durable health care power of attorney, or medical power of attorney in some states, is a document that lets you choose someone, often called your health care proxy or agent, to make medical decisions for you if you are incapacitated.

If you have both a living will and durable health care power of attorney, your health care proxy must follow and enforce the medical preferences outlined in your living will. Because it’s impossible to plan for every situation in your living will, a health care power of attorney can fill in the gaps and make sure that any decisions made are in alignment with your health and end of life care wishes. Together, your living will and health care power of attorney form what many states call an advance directive for health care.

To easily create your end-of-life health care plan, use our do-it-yourself health care directive form. The customizable form has all the tools you need to specify your treatment preferences and appoint your health care agent without a trip to an attorney’s office.

3. Plan for Your Financial Affairs

In addition to planning for your medical care in the event you cannot communicate your wishes directly, you should also plan for how you want your finances handled. A durable financial power of attorney is document that lets you give someone decision-making authority over your financial and business matters. With this document, you can give a trusted individual the power to pay your bills, file your taxes, and manage your investments and bank accounts if you are unable to do so yourself.

4. Plan for Your End-of-Life Housing

Your end-of-life plan checklist should include where you would like to live out your last days. Consider what kind of housing and level of care you think you might want or need at the end of your life. Options include in-home care, an assisted-living facility, or a nursing home.

Depending on the circumstances, you should also think about whether you would like to receive hospice care or hire a caregiver, along with the associated costs. Conduct research and talk with your family members to ensure that you’re able to live out your final days in a setting that’s most comfortable to you.

5. Plan for Your Funeral and Burial

While planning for your own funeral may feel uncomfortable, it allows your family to grieve without the added burden of deciding what kind of funeral and burial to have for you. A good end-of-life plan should include a funeral plan that instructs your family members and loved ones about how you want to be remembered in the wake of your death.

Death Notice

A death notice or obituary doesn’t have to be written after you die. By either writing your own obituary or helping your family members and friends write one while you are still alive, you can ensure that it accurately reflects the person that you are and celebrates your life’s accomplishments.

Funeral Arrangements

There are many different ways to plan for how your loved ones will say their goodbyes after your passing. Consider whether you want a traditional ceremony, such as one in a church or funeral home, or something less formal, such as a memorial service or celebration of life ceremony. The more detailed your funeral plan, the easier it will be for your family and friends to make arrangements after your death.

Burial Arrangements

In addition to the kind of funeral you want, you should also provide instructions about how and where you want to be laid to rest. If you prefer cremation instead of a traditional in-ground burial, this is something your loved ones need to know so that they can carry out your final wishes. You should also include where you might want your ashes spread or the cemetery where you want to be buried.

Need Help With Your End-of-Life Plan?

The end-of-life plan checklist is a roadmap you can use to simplify the process of making your important final arrangements without having to figure it all out on your own.

You can also use FindLaw’s estate planning tools and forms to easily create some of the important documents included in the checklist. We offer customizable and state-specific templates for creating a last will and testament, health care directive and living will, and financial power of attorney from the comfort of your own home.

If you still have questions about end-of-life care planning, contact an estate planning attorney near you for advice.

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