When should you create an end-of-life plan?

Ideally, end-of-life planning comes well before the end of your life, not during. If you need to discuss end-of-life plans with a parent or loved one, experts recommend the 40/70 rule: If you're 40 or your parents are 70, it's time to discuss end-of-life planning. If you're planning for yourself, getting started sooner rather than later is better.

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Creating an end-of-life plan for you and your family

Planning for your end of life is as much about your family as it is about you. Having a plan saves loved ones from having to hunt down missing documents. They won't have to guess what you would have wanted, argue with other family members over difficult decisions, or end up in court to hash out the details.

When creating an end-of-life plan, there are a few main things you'll want to think about:

  • Who will get your things? If you have a house and some belongings, congratulations — you have an estate. It's important to plan who gets what to avoid arguments down the road. Your estate plan can also include a life insurance policy to help cover final expenses. You'll need to think about providing care for minor children and dependents with special needs.

  • What kind of care do you want? How long would you like to remain on life support? Are you comfortable moving into an extended care facility, or prefer to stay at home? Think about what you want and how you'll afford it. For instance, a terminal illness rider add-on to your life insurance policy can help you pay for the kind of end-of-life care you want.

  • How will you help your family prepare? After you die, will they know where things are and what to do? Are they prepared financially? Let your beneficiary know how to make a life insurance payout claim and where to find your essential paperwork.

An end-of-life planning checklist

By creating an end-of-life plan well before you need it, you can help ease your family's emotional and financial stress during a tough time. This checklist can help get you started.

Write a will

A will is a legal document that lays out your final wishes and leaves instructions on distributing your property after you die. When you write a will, you name an executor (the person who administers the will) and the beneficiaries (the people who get your things).

You may also want to include items such as:

  • A list of personal and business items to divvy up

  • How to cover any remaining expenses or taxes

  • Who should care for minor or special needs children

  • Any special instructions, like care for a surviving pet

Without a valid will, your family can end up in probate court to sort things out, which can cost thousands of dollars. You can work with an attorney to create a will, and there are also free services online to help you draw one up if cost is an issue.

Some things can't be covered in a will, like things you own with another person (i.e., a house) or assets with a beneficiary (like a life insurance policy). An attorney can help you create a plan based on your personal needs.

Learn more about why you need a will.

Establish powers of attorney

There are two main kinds of power of attorney: healthcare, which gives someone the power to make medical decisions for you if you can't, and financial, which gives someone the power to manage your finances in your stead. You'll want to choose a trusted relative or friend to handle these duties and let them know you're putting them in charge. Once you choose your person, an attorney can help you create powers of attorney, or you can find inexpensive services online to create them yourself.

Other documents you might need include a HIPAA waiver, which allows other family members to receive details about your health. In addition, a living will allows you to put your wishes for end-of-life care in writing — which can help save your family from making difficult, emotional decisions around your hospital bed.

Learn more about setting up advance directives for medical decisions.

Gather important end-of-life documents

In the emotional fog after your death, you don't want your family struggling to track down your will or the deed to your house. Keep physical copies of important documents in a single spot, including your Social Security card, birth and marriage certificates, estate planning documents, education and military records, banking and investment information, insurance policies, and mortgage documents.

Learn more about how to find a life insurance policy after someone has died.

Also, create a list of logins and passwords for social media handles, email, utilities, and other digital accounts. Finally, let your partner or another trusted person know where to find everything when it's time.

Communicate your end-of-life plan

Would you like to be buried in your favorite sports jersey? Are you afraid of ending up in a nursing home? Ultimately, it will be your family's responsibility to step in when you're gone and honor your wishes the way you would have wanted. It's important to be honest and upfront about your expectations and wishes. If it's too hard to say the words, consider writing a letter to your family and loved ones.

Insurance and end-of-life planning

An important part of end-of-life planning is ensuring that your death doesn't create a financial burden for those you love. You work hard now to protect your family, and life insurance can help protect them once you're no longer there.

The end of life can come with steep costs — the average funeral cost can range from several thousand dollars to $15,000 or more, and your family might also face medical bills or other expenses. Final expense insurance can help cover those costs. Final expense is designed for people between 50 and 85. A policy is typically available for up to $40,000, with no medical exam required.

If you're married and creating an estate plan or want to provide care for dependents who will likely outlive you, a survivorship or joint life insurance policy insures two people with a single policy.

Learn more about how life insurance pays out.

It might seem tricky to approach, but once you've checked end-of-life planning off your list, you'll likely feel much more at peace with whatever the future may bring. Creating a will, planning for final expenses, and talking with your loved ones can help them fulfill your wishes while caring for themselves. You — and your family — will be grateful you did.

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