Start planning your legacy: how to organize end-of-life documents

When the time comes, the most difficult tasks fall upon the ones we love most. Our collective discomfort around the topic of death leaves many of us without a plan. And without a plan, our friends and family are left to pick up the pieces after we’re gone. Avoiding death doesn’t make it any less imminent it only makes it more expensive and complicated for those left to make the decisions. Pre-planning your legacy allows you to create a meaningful experience for yourself and the people you care about. 

Sometimes, we hear people say, “When I die, it doesn’t matter what happens to me. Whatever my family wants.” And though this sentiment is understandably well-intentioned, what we need to consider is the amount of logistics and paperwork that comes with death and planning a ceremony. All of a sudden, the pile of paperwork with insurance, taxes, and loans fall onto your family. Ceremony planning  and managing all logistics  become your loved ones’ responsibility. Those who love you will want to know and follow, your clear wishes.

How do we make this easier on those we love? To ensure that our loved ones are able to get your affairs in order, it’s important to start by organizing necessary documents for them. Otherwise, they will be left to put together the puzzle with no roadmap. This critical information can be stored online or in a folder. Just make sure that the important people know how to access it, and that it’s protected.

Below we’ve outlined some of the necessary documents that you should add to your end-of-life folder.

Write your will

Having a basic will gives you peace of mind. However, many of us avoid writing a will because it makes us uncomfortable or we’re not sure how to start. Just remember that you can always add to it later, but having something is always better than nothing. In short, your will should outline who gets what and how your assets should be distributed. Make sure to appoint an executor, this will be the person who ensures that the terms of the will are carried correctly. For those with young children, it’s important to list their selected guardians and tell them that you’ve selected them. Many select guardians without informing them of their potential duties, which can lead to issues down the line. 

Get a healthcare directive 

A healthcare directive acts as your voice when you’re unable to make decisions for yourself. This legal document ensures that medical decisions won’t be made without your consent. Think of a healthcare directive like a will, but for medical decisions that you do or do not want to be performed. For example, if you don’t want to be kept alive on a ventilator, your healthcare directive can help you convey that information. Like with a will, you will designate someone who you can trust to honor your choices and make decisions on your behalf. 

Document your banking information

When we pass, our loved ones will need our banking information to get our final affairs in order. Print statements and document logins for each of your bank accounts and credit cards, as well as for your IRA, 401k, and pension. Designate beneficiaries for each of your accounts so funds are able to be easily distributed according to your wishes in your will. If this isn’t done beforehand, your loved ones will have to go through probate to gain access to your accounts. Probate can take up to 24 months and cause additional stress on your family. 

Prepare your insurance information

After we die, our friends or family will need to contact our insurance providers to make sure we’re no longer being billed. In the case of life insurance, your beneficiaries will need to file a claim to begin receiving their payouts. To make this process easier, designate beneficiaries for health, property, car, and life insurance. Document policy information and logins for each insurance provider you have. Things like homeowners insurance and car insurance will need to be transferred to someone else so they can inherit or sell the property. 

Gather your property documents 

If you own a property you will need to leave any deeds or titles for those that survive you. These documents are your proof of ownership and without them, it gets difficult to give property to your loved ones (or they will spend a lot of time trying to find the paperwork!) There are a few different ways to transfer ownership of your properties. You can transfer before you die or choose to transfer on death. If you choose the latter, your property will be transferred to whichever beneficiary you have listed. Check your beneficiary declarations periodically so an incorrect transfer of property doesn’t occur. 

Outline your end-of-life decisions

If we don’t pre-plan our memorial, the details and logistics fall squarely onto our family and loved ones while they’re grieving. It becomes emotionally taxing as they try to assume how we’d want to be remembered and what we’d want as part of our legacy. This is why we encourage you to begin making your end-of-life decisions now so you can create an experience that embodies your days on earth. Do you want to be cremated or buried in a traditional cemetery? Do you want to be with nature in a protected memorial forest? Do you want to be somewhere meaningful or beautiful to you? Outline all of your wishes so that your family can honor you the way you want. 

Transfer your loans 

Unfortunately, loans don’t go away when we die. Any leftover debt we have will be transferred to our beneficiaries or cosigner. While the thought of passing on a financial burden isn’t appealing, it’s one of the realities of making end-of-life plans. You can add special provisions in your will to make sure that your remaining assets or money are put towards any outstanding debts. 

Don’t forget your last tax return 

It’s surprising to many, but we have to pay taxes the year we pass away. To help your family file your final tax return, include a copy of your most recent tax return in your end-of-life folder. This will give your family key information for filing in the future. If you have someone that does your taxes every year, adding their information will be helpful as well. 

Pre-planning allows you to create a meaningful legacy while protecting the ones you love. However, according to our recent research, 70% of respondents had not made their end-of-life plans yet. What’s hopeful is that over 73% of those who have started thinking about plans felt more productive, positive and reassuring. Taking the time to get your affairs in order will ensure that your loved ones can navigate change peacefully. 

Are you ready to start planning your legacy? Take our readiness quiz to learn what end-of-life option is best for you.

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