June 23, 2024
End-of-Life Planning: A Complete Guide

Having an end-of-life plan can ensure your family is cared for upon your death and that your medical care, funeral arrangements and financial affairs are handled according to your wishes. While planning for this time in your life can be uncomfortable, doing so can spare your loved ones some confusion and stress.


This guide includes a step-by-step checklist for end-of-life planning, including the legal documents you should create.

What is end-of-life planning?

End-of-life planning entails organizing your affairs and documenting your medical treatment and financial decisions. An end-of-life plan may include estate planning documents such as a will and trust and medical decision documents like advance healthcare directives.


Why is end-of-life planning important?

End-of-life planning allows you to put your wishes in writing to ensure they’re followed. If there ever comes a time when you cannot communicate what you want, having an end-of-life plan can limit confusion and conflict among your loved ones.


The end of a person’s life can be a challenging time for family and close friends. On top of dealing with the emotional stress of a loss, family members may face tough decisions. Proper end-of-life planning documents can alleviate some of your loved ones’ burdens while giving you peace of mind knowing your requests will be honored.


End-of-life document checklist

Your end-of-life plan can vary based on your needs, but it’s typically comprised of the following estate planning documents:


Will: Your will — or last will and testament — designates the beneficiaries who will inherit your assets upon your death. You can also use a will to name guardians for your minor children and pets.

Financial power of attorney: A financial power of attorney (POA) gives an individual the authority to make financial decisions on your behalf if you cannot. They may make decisions about your taxes, financial accounts, property and more.

Living trust: A trust also lets you designate beneficiaries for your assets. However, unlike a will, it can go into effect while you are alive or after you die. There are many different types of trusts, some of which satisfy specialized needs or goals.

Letter of instruction: You can include a letter of instruction in your estate plan to provide your loved ones with more specific directions or additional information. This could consist of important contacts, accounts and passwords, the location of key documents like deeds and titles, and information about pensions, credit cards, retirement accounts and life insurance policies.

It may also include advance care planning documents such as:


Living will: Unlike a will, which specifies how your assets will be distributed after your death, a living will outlines your medical care preferences should you become unable to communicate them yourself. This can include your choices regarding medication, life-sustaining treatment, procedures and more.

Medical power of attorney: A medical power of attorney designates an individual to make medical decisions on your behalf if you cannot.

End-of-life planning checklist

Use the following step-by-step checklist to create an end-of-life plan.


1. Think about your values

Many end-of-life planning decisions will come down to what matters most to you and how you want to live your final days. Keeping your values in mind — family, autonomy, charity, etc. — can help you make decisions about your legacy and medical care.


2. Discuss your decisions with your family

Preparing for the end of your life can be emotionally challenging for both you and your family. Discussing your plan with family members, answering their questions and asking for their input can ensure they understand and respect your choices.


3. Consult your doctor and attorney

Consider consulting professionals throughout the planning process. An attorney can help you draft important documents and ensure they’re legally binding. Even if you choose not to hire one to create your plan, you can still meet with them for advice.


Your doctor can also play an essential role in creating an advance healthcare directive. Discussing your current health state and the medical decisions you may face in the future can help you define your preferences for specific scenarios based on your medical history and prognosis.


4. Prepare your estate planning documents

Estate planning documents help you plan for asset distribution after you die. This can ensure your property goes to the right people and your family is cared for. Experts often recommend starting the planning process in your 30s, but it can be earlier if you have children.


It could be helpful to follow an estate planning checklist. At the bare minimum, you should create a will, but some people also benefit from trusts. We explain more about the differences between the two later on.

Prepare advance directives

Simply put, advance directives create a plan for your future medical care. These documents allow you to control the treatment you receive in the future, even if you cannot make those decisions in person.


You can create advance directives on your own using templates for your state from government or third-party websites. However, check your state’s laws to determine if the documents need to be witnessed and notarized. We go into more detail about how to create them below.


7. Choose funeral and burial arrangements

Take some time to think about your wishes for a funeral and burial service. There are many different options to choose from. Specifying what you want ahead of time can relieve your family of the burden of having to make those decisions in your stead.

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