A complete estate plan includes a range of documents, some of which outline your end-of-life choices. These documents include things like the person you’ve entrusted to carry out medical wishes (or DNR orders) when you’re incapacitated.
They may also include the types of treatments or measures you want taken to extend your life and those you don’t – as well as how you’d like your body handled and the types of events you’d like to occur after you die.
10 End-of-Life (EOL) Documents to Include in Your Estate Plans
The following are 10 EOL topics and documents for estate planning sessions.
Advanced Medical Directives
We are not in control of the situations that render us incapacitated. These range from a sudden car accident or medical event (heart attack or stroke) to the onset of Alzheimer’s or dementia. The only way to have control over your medical treatments, the degree of life-saving measures you want taken, or how long you’d be on certain types of life support is to complete an advanced medical directive.
If you are new to this, we recommend starting with a document called Five Wishes, which is legally upheld in nearly all states. From there, you can begin thinking of more extreme situations – and what you would or would not want – and clarify those.
Completing your advanced medical directives, having them witnessed or notarized, and sharing them with multiple parties (relatives, close friends, healthcare providers, etc.) is the best way to ensure they’re upheld – rather than overridden by a well-meaning loved one who insists care providers take measures that you didn’t want.
Where do you want to die?
Do you want to die in a hospital or similar medical facility where every measure can be taken to save or extend your life? Or, is there a point where you’d prefer to return home and die with the invaluable support of a hospice team and your loved ones?
Filing your wishes along with your estate plans is the only way to keep everyone on the same page in the event of an acute health or medical crisis or if cognitive decline renders you unable to make decisions for yourself.
Durable power of attorney
Your durable power of attorney (DPOA) is designated to make legal and financial decisions for you. In some cases, this might be the same person designated as your healthcare power of attorney or healthcare proxy. In others, you may choose someone else to ensure the decisions are made by an individual with a more objective – than subjective – take on things.
Your estate planning attorney can help you whittle through your options to help you select the individual best suited for the job.
Will or living trust
Not surprisingly, it’s always recommended that all adults have some type of will or living trust in place. These documents should be viewed as “living documents,” meaning they change over time as your estate grows, plans evolve, or other life changes (deaths, divorce, evolution of relationships) alter your intentions around beneficiaries, inheritors, etc.
Choosing legal guardians for your children
Many people make the mistake of believing estate plans are for the rich; this is not the case at all. And wealth or not, parents owe it to their minor children – or adult children with disabilities – to have stated guardianships in place. Most of us assume we’ll die late in our lives, and that assumption is true for the majority. However, all too often, clients die suddenly and unexpectedly.
If there are children in the mix, they deserve to have plans already in place so they can move forward as seamlessly as possible in what is already a devastating scenario. If you aren’t sure who to designate as a legal guardian, an estate planning attorney is there to help you run through the pros and cons of potential guardians, and we can work with them and you to draw up all of the necessary documents.
Organ and tissue donor designation
Many states handle the subject of organ and tissue donorship by including your designation on the state driver’s license. Some healthcare providers may also have you listed as a willing donor – or not. The best case scenario is one where a person includes their wishes or feelings about organ/tissue donation in their medical directives and as a separate document in their estate plans.
If you have changed your mind about organ donorship in the past, make your current wishes known clearly and emphasize that these wishes make previous statements null and void. If you aren’t clear about your wishes now, any former registries that have you listed as a donor can put pressure on your family to donate your organs, and this can be confusing and emotionally trying for them.
Lists of your assets and liabilities
Creating a current, updated list of assets and liabilities is a significant step in estate planning preparations. In a perfect world, those items become part of your family’s trust or will. However, just having an updated list with relevant information is a big step in the right direction.
This includes a list of:
- Online bank accounts
- Credit cards
- Retirement funds
- Investment accounts
- Insurance policies
- Real estate (property, mortgages, etc.)
- Any outstanding loans/debts
In the event of a medical emergency, or if you are at the end of your life, an organized, current list makes it much easier for loved ones to handle your affairs.
Additionally, it’s wise to make a list of updated contact information.
- Who are the people to contact first in the event of an emergency?
- Closest friends?
- Any groups or meetings you attend regularly?
- Estate planning attorney?
- Religious or spiritual communities?
- Financial planner?
- Work or business associates?
- Who takes care of your house cleaning, pet care when you’re away, works as a handyman around the house?
- Is there a neighbor who has a spare key or knows how to shut off the house water/gas/electric supply or other maintenance things that might come into play?
Your first responders greatly appreciate this information – be they emergency personnel or family members.
Documents pertaining to after-death body care
Do you have specific wishes about the care of your body after you die? For some, these instructions are part of the paperwork filed with a funeral home. However, others opt to have a home vigil or a home funeral, in which case specific instructions are the only way to ensure those plans are carried out.
Funeral, celebration of life, etc.
Similarly, your end-of-life document checklist should include something about how you want people to gather and honor your life. Are you only open to a small family event? Or, would you like to have a larger funeral or celebration of life at a local spiritual center, funeral home, or community space? The more you plan, the easier it is for those left behind.
Complete Your EOL Document & Paperwork Checklist with Tseng Law Firm
Tseng Law Firm supports clients as they move through end-of-life documents and paperwork so they can check those items off their lists. As a result, we regularly witness clients’ peace of mind when this work is complete, and they have the empowering awareness that their wishes will be carried out just as they’ve chosen.
Contact Tseng Law Firm to learn more about personalizing your end-of-life document checklist.