End of life planning is an important way to ease the burden on your loved ones and make your medical and financial wishes known for your final days. From the documents you’ll need to the professionals who can help, preparation can make end of life planning much easier.

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No one likes to dwell on the end of their own life, but planning for it in advance is essential. Putting a plan in place gives you the security of knowing that your choices about your medical care and your finances will always be followed.

A plan makes sure you’re heard, even if you’re unable to communicate your wishes. Plus, it can take the stress of making choices on your behalf away from loved ones.

End of life planning is a key part of financial and estate planning. An end of life plan allows you to officially document your wishes for the final days. This includes important decisions such as the medical care you’d like to receive, the funeral and burial arrangements you’d prefer, and what you want to happen to your assets.

Creating an end of life plan while you’re young and healthy is highly recommended. After you pass away, having a plan in place can take the stress off your family and loved ones and can help them feel confident they’re making the best choices.

Having an end of life plan in place has several advantages. For instance, an end of life plan ensures your wishes are followed if you’re longer able to make them known. An end of life plan allows you to decide in advance which medical steps and medical care you’d like to receive.

This means that even if a time comes when your medical condition doesn’t allow you to discuss treatment options with a doctor, you can count on getting the care you’d prefer.

Additionally, an end of life plan allows you to designate a person who can help make medical and financial decisions if you’re unable to. This person can handle paying medical bills, choosing medical facilities, and ensuring doctors follow your wishes.

This is another way an end of life plan can help you feel confident that your healthcare, assets, and end of life arrangements are in the hands of someone you trust.

End of life planning also helps your family and loved ones. The end of a family member’s life is often an emotional and stressful time. From medical decisions to funeral arrangements, there can be a lot to manage. Having an end of life plan in place removes this burden from your loved ones.

They’ll be able to follow your instructions and won’t need to make complex and overwhelming decisions.

A complete end of life plan has several important parts. Fortunately, you can complete the documents you need to cover all of them far in advance. With these documents in place, you can feel secure in your end of life planning. Important end of life documents are discussed below.

1. Living will

A living will is a document that allows you to list your medical wishes in advance. This document ensures your choices will be honored if you become unable to voice them independently.

For instance, a living will allows you to choose which life sustaining measures you do, and do not, want in your final days. A living will is sometimes also called an advance directive.

2. Living trust

A living trust allows you to manage your assets and finances. The document ensures your financial wishes will be followed if you become ill or otherwise unable to control your finances. You can change a living trust throughout your life as your needs and financial situation change.

3. Power of attorney

A power of attorney (POA) designates a person who can make medical, legal, financial, and business decisions on your behalf if you can no longer make them on your own. This designation for health decisions is sometimes called a healthcare POA, healthcare proxy, or durable medical POA.

4. Portable medical orders

Portable medical orders (POLST) are medical orders you can carry with you if you become seriously ill or otherwise unable to communicate your wishes. Doctors and other medical professionals will follow what’s written in your POLST when they administer care.

5. Last will and testament

A will is a legal document that describes exactly how you want your assets to be handled in the event of your death. If you have dependents, your will can also detail the person or people you select to care for them if you pass away.

6. Organ and tissue donor designation

This document allows you to select and let others know if you’d like to donate your organs or tissue after your death

7. Domestic partnership agreement

If you and your long-term partner aren’t legally married, a domestic partnership agreement can be a smart idea. This document allows you to declare the responsibilities you’d like your partner to take on and the rights you’d like them to have regarding your end of life care and finances.

Making an end of life plan can be hard. Thinking about the end of your life is uncomfortable for many people. However, having an end of life plan in place is important and very beneficial. If you’re helping a loved one create their end of life plan, there are some steps you can take to help make the process easier:

  • Do your homework: It’s best to come to the conversation completely prepared to explain the process and answer any questions. You’ll be able to help the most when you’re armed with knowledge about estate planning and end of life planning.
  • Be compassionate: A conversation about the end of life can be difficult. Being respectful, engaged, and compassionate can help your loved one feel more at ease.
  • Be patient: It’s normal for these decisions to take time, so it’s important to make sure your loved ones don’t feel rushed. Allow them the space and time they need to make the best choices for their end of life plan.
  • Talk with a doctor: If your loved one has had a progressive or chronic illness diagnosed, talking with a doctor during end of life planning can be a big help. You and your loved one can meet with the doctor to get a clearer understanding of what to expect in the future.
  • Get things in writing: An end of life plan should be written down and formalized. It’s best to have your loved one look over the documents before they’re finalized.
  • Remember things can change: An end of life plan can change at any time. Although these are legal and formal documents, your loved one won’t be locked into their choices. It’s a good idea to talk with your loved ones and remind them that documents can be amended if circumstances change.

Checklist for end of life planning

A complete end of life plan can give you and your loved ones confidence and security. Following this checklist will ensure your plan is solid and meets your needs:

  • Make a list of your assets.
  • Determine the housing you’d like at the end of your life.
  • Write down your funeral, burial, and any other end of life wishes.
  • Decide if a living trust is a good option for you.
  • Prepare all important end of life documents.
  • Create an obituary in advance.
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End of life planning can be complicated. Fortunately, there are several professionals you can turn to who can help you create the best plan for your unique situation.

Professionals can help you make choices about the financial and legal aspects of an end of life plan that can often be overwhelming and confusing. If you need assistance creating and end of life plan, you can turn to professionals such as:

  • Attorneys. Attorneys can help you create legal documents that will ensure your wishes regarding your finances, medical care, and dependents are followed.
  • Financial planners. A financial planner is a professional who can help you understand your assets, income, and total estate. They can help you decide how to best save and distribute your assets.
  • Estate planners. Estate planners are dedicated to helping people make decisions about their estates. This includes helping to create documents such as living trusts and living wills.

You can learn more about end of life planning by reading the answers to some of the most commonly asked questions.

What is the difference between a trust and will?

A trust and a will both allow you to make decisions about your finances in advance, but there are differences between these two documents.

One primary difference is that wills are only enforceable after you pass away, but trusts can be used to manage your finances while you’re still alive. Additionally, you can only have one will in place at a time. A trust can be used to supplement a will or instead of a will.

How much does it cost to create a will?

You can create a will and most other end of life documents for free. There are numerous websites with templates you can use to create legal documents. However, it’s important to note that the rules for wills and other legal documents aren’t the same in all states, so you’ll need to make sure any template you’ve selected is valid in your state.

Some states require two unrelated witnesses or a notary to be legal or valid. Notary services often come with a nominal fee. Applicable sources will be dependent on which state a person lives in.

What happens if you pass away without a will in place?

Your estate will go into a legal process called probate if you die without a will in place. This process finalizes your assets and will appoint an executor or representative to distribute them. This process can take months or even years. This delays how soon your loved ones will have access to any assets you wish to pass on.

An end of life plan is a key part of your estate plan. Having an end of life plan in place will help ensure your wishes are followed. This includes your wishes for your end of life medical care and for the distribution of your assets.

With an end of life plan, you can choose exactly how you’d like your care and finances to be handled now so that you can feel confident your choices are honored in the event you can no longer express them on your own.

If you need assistance, a professional such as an attorney, financial planner, or estate planner can help you create documents that fit your needs.