When you imagine the end of your life (which, hopefully, is many years away), who’s gathered by your side? Will they know what kind of care you want in your final days? And will they be OK financially once you’re gone?
An end-of-life plan helps answer these questions to make things easier for everyone involved when the time finally comes. If you haven’t spent much time thinking about the end of your life, you’re not alone—planning for death falls between dental work and paying taxes on the enjoyment scale for most people. Yet, most people recognize it’s something they need to do. One survey found that 92% of people say it’s important to talk with their loved ones regarding their wishes for end of life care—but only 32% have actually had the conversation.
Preparing for the end of life doesn’t have to feel morbid. In fact, it can be empowering and give you a sense of peace and control. The same survey found that 95% of people say they’re willing or want to talk about end-of-life care with their loved ones.
Being prepared is even more important in the face of the pandemic, which is prompting many of us to think more seriously about the end of life and realize the time to plan is now. This checklist can help get you started.
What issues should I consider at the end of my life?
Ideally, end-of-life planning comes well before the actual end of your life, not during or after. Many people end up putting it off, which can cause unnecessary problems. Home Instead found that 70% of end-of-life conversations happen because of an unexpected medical crisis or other emergency, a stressful way to have such an important conversation.
Ultimately, planning for the end of life is as much about your family as it is about you. It saves loved ones from having to hunt down missing documents, trying to guess what you would have wanted, arguing with other family members over difficult decisions, or even ending up in court to hash out the details.
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 talk about end-of-life planning. If you’re planning for yourself, it’s better to get started sooner than later. There are a few main things you’ll want to think about:
- Who will get your things? Think estate planning isn’t for you? If you have a house and some belongings in it, congratulations—you have an estate. It’s important to plan who gets what to avoid arguments down the road. Your estate plan can also provide for the care of minor children, or any adult children or other dependents with special needs.
- What kind of care do you want? How long would you want to remain on life support? Are you comfortable moving into an extended care facility or would you prefer to remain at home? Think about what you want, and how you’ll afford it.
- How will you help your family prepare? After you die, will they know where things are and what to do? Are they prepared financially?
Your end-of-life checklist
Let’s face it: No one is ever fully prepared to lose a family member. But by planning now, you can help ease the emotional and financial stress for your own family during a tough time. Your plan should ideally include:
Writing a will
A will is a legal document that lays out your final wishes and leaves instructions on how to distribute your property after you die. When you write a will, you name an executor (the person who makes sure the will is carried out) and 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 proper 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. Keep in mind that 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.
Related reading: Do I need a will?
Creating 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 to consider include a HIPAA waiver, which allows other family members to receive details about your health. In addition, a living will lets you 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.
Gathering important 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. 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.
Communicating your plans
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 make sure things are carried out 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 making sure your death doesn’t create financial burdens 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 some steep costs—the average funeral costs upward of $10,000, and your family might also face medical bills or other expenses. Final expense insurance can help cover those exact kinds of costs. Designed for people between 50 and 85, final expense is typically available in amounts up to $35,000, with no medical exam required.
It might feel like a tricky topic 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. Taking steps like creating a will, planning for final expenses, and talking with your loved ones can help make sure they’re able to fulfill your wishes while caring for themselves. You—and your family—will be grateful you did.
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