Planning for the end of your life is a solemn task but an essential one. As a competent adult, you have the right to make decisions regarding your health care choices and use of finances and other assets. If there comes a time when you are incapacitated in any way, you should have your wishes clearly outlined through legal means so your family members or other designated representative know how to proceed.
Estate planning documents establish how you want your property divided and distributed to your named beneficiaries. Having clear instructions can help your loved ones avoid disputes and legal problems. Preparing the necessary legal documents now gives you control over your final decisions. Learn more about the types of end of life documents everyone needs.
1. Living Will Declaration
A living will provides instructions regarding your wishes on end-of-life care and is often referred to as a health care directive. Anyone can create a living will, although it’s particularly important for anyone who has a terminal illness. This document gives you control over your preferences for treatments used to prolong your life, even if you are no longer capable of communicating your wishes. Common preferences include:
- Pain management
- Tube feeding
Even if you have a separate legal document in place for some potential circumstances, such as a do not resuscitate order, it’s always a good idea to clearly communicate your wishes in a living will.
2. Letter of Intent
Writing a letter of intent to include with your important personal documents is a good way to eliminate confusion and explain the reasoning behind your end of life choices. A letter of intent isn’t a legal document and is not required, but it’s helpful to your loved ones. You can include details about the location of important documents, login information for your online accounts, and other beneficial information that can make executing your final wishes easier.
3. Letter of Competency
It’s a good idea to ask your doctor to write a letter of competency that verifies you are of sound mind to complete a legal will and other end of life documents. The letter must include your personal details, relationship to the author of the letter, and a clear statement of your mental capabilities at the time your physician writes the letter. Having this letter in your file can prevent any disagreements or disputes over the legality of the documents you completed.
4. Last Will and Testament
A last will and testament is the document that details your wishes following your death. Your will allows you to divide your estate as you see fit, instead of allowing the default rules of your state to distribute your assets to your closest living family member. Your last will and testament should include:
- A list of your assets
- List of debts that require payment
- The names of your beneficiaries (the people you want to receive your assets when you are gone)
- The executor (the person you want to carry out the instructions detailed in your will)
- Special instructions pertaining to your unique situation, such as the ongoing care of your pets
You can and should update your will to reflect any major life changes, such as the acquisition of new property. Having a current and legally binding will helps expedite the process of probate, which is a court procedure to validate your will and distribute your personal property.
5. Living Trust
A living trust is a fund that holds your financial assets while you are alive. It’s a legally binding document that provides details regarding how you want your financial assets distributed upon your death. Living trusts can include bank accounts, real estate, and other valuable assets. Anything you place in a living trust is distributed according to your wishes and doesn’t require probate.
6. Financial Power of Attorney
A financial POA gives the person of your choosing the ability to make legal and financial decisions on your behalf. Many people give one of their children this role when they get older.
In addition to choosing the person, you must also select the level of power you wish to place with your named POA. A general power of attorney can pay bills for you, sign documents, and make other critical financial decisions up until your death. A durable power of attorney gives your designated person the power to complete these tasks while you are living but unable to make decisions for yourself.
7. Medical Power of Attorney
Another important document names a medical POA. The person you select as your medical power of attorney gains the right to make health care decisions on your behalf in the event you can’t do so for yourself. Your named agent communicates with your healthcare providers to provide or deny consent for various medical treatments and life-sustaining measures.
8. HIPAA Release Form
HIPAA, or the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, is the confidential agreement in place for all medical information. Without your permission, your healthcare providers are prohibited from discussing your health and medical treatments with anyone other than yourself. If you wish to give a family member or another trusted individual access to your medical information, you must sign a HIPAA release form.
9. Do Not Resuscitate (DNR)
Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) is a common practice used in a medical emergency in an effort to restart your heart or help you breathe. A DNR is a legally binding document that specifies you don’t want to be resuscitated. Without access to your preferences, a medical team always employs measures to save your life. If you decide on a DNR, make your decision known to your loved ones and include it in your living will.
10. Organ and Tissue Donation
When you die, you can give the gift of life to others by becoming an organ and tissue donor. Your heart, kidneys, and other organs and tissues could save someone’s life. One donor has the power to save as many as eight lives and improve many more. If you wish to become an organ donor, you’ll need to register to give consent.
11. Funeral Plan
Finally, your end of life documents should include instructions regarding your funeral arrangements, burial, and even your obituary. Making a funeral plan in advance ensures your loved ones know your preferences and aren’t burdened with making hard decisions while grieving your passing.
Getting Your Documents In Order
It’s best to act sooner rather than later and complete the required documents necessary to get your affairs in order while your health is good and your finances are secure. Complete, sign, and store copies of essential documents along with your personal and financial records, such as your bank account information and deeds to any property you own. Keep everything together and inform a trusted family member or friend of the location. If you have questions or your estate is complex, it can help to hire a lawyer. Preparing for your own passing makes it easier on yourself and your loved ones when the time comes to make some difficult decisions.
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