What is end-of-life planning?

Woman dressed in white sitting at a computer talks on the phone.

End-of-life planning, also known as advance care planning, is the steps that a person takes to prepare for their funeral, burial and possibly any terminal illnesses that precede them. Some of the steps that will be taken typically include completing a living will, estate planning, setting up a healthcare policy, preplanning a funeral and detailing their final wishes. 

Of course, each situation is as unique as the individual themselves, so the planning process may include other preparatory steps. In this user-friendly guide, you’ll learn the essential facts about end-of-life planning. After all, planning for the future is one of the greatest gifts you can offer your loved ones, so that they won’t have to carry a burden when you die.

Why end-of-life planning is important

End-of-life planning is about making very important decisions so that your family won’t have to do it down the road. It’s about getting your affairs in order to prepare for when you die in the future. Some of these important decisions include detailing the bequest or sale of your property, getting your healthcare and life insurance policies ready, organizing your finances and so on.

When you create an end-of-life plan, you will be able to relieve your family members of a huge burden. Think of this as your final gift for family and other loved ones. You don’t want to wait until you’re in your last years, because you could be experiencing terminal illness that leaves you incapacitated or lacking energy to handle these stressful yet important tasks. You might not have the capacity to express your final wishes about how you want your funeral arrangements to be. 

That’s why end-of-life planning is essential and it’s important to do it now. In particular, it’s imperative to create, organize, store and notarize legal documents that pertain to end-of-life planning, such as life insurance policies, financial documents, your will and testament, and others. 

An even more important part of end-of-life planning is simply discussing your wishes with your doctors, estate attorneys and especially your loved ones. In fact, you should hold this conversation as early as possible. This way you’ll be able to ensure that your wishes will be followed in the future. 

Important questions to ask

The following are some examples of questions you should ask yourself during end-of-life planning, but they are also important questions to ask your physician, estate attorney and others who will help you on your journey. Don’t be afraid to ask them these questions as they are professionals with lots of experience. 

We refrained from answering these questions for you, because each person and situation is different. Ultimately, these questions will lead to decisions that only you can make. 

  1. Do I need or have a will?

  2. Does my family know where I keep my important papers?

  3. Do I have life insurance or money set aside for burial, cremation, or funeral expenses?

  4. How and where do I wish to die if I have a choice?

  5. Do I want lifesaving measures taken if need be?

  6. Is palliative care right for me?

  7. How do I want my body handled after my death?

  8. Do I have social media accounts that need closure?

  9. Do I want to donate my organs or my body?

  10. Do I want a death announcement or an obituary? Where do I want it  published?

  11. What sort of memorial do I want, if any?

What you should prepare for end-of-life planning

The following is a list of the documentation you should prepare as part of your  end-of-life planning. Of course, this is just a portion of what you might need, and the exact items will be different for each unique person. However, this list is a good place to start.

Last will and testament

This is the legal document that details a person's last wishes. For example, it might tell how their property will be distributed after their death and which person will manage the property until its final distribution.

Revocable living trust

This is a type of trust that can be canceled at any time. Also, the grantor of the trust is both the trustee and beneficiary, which allows for control of the trust's assets. 

Beneficiary designations for non-probate assets

Non-probate assets are those that don’t pass under the terms of a will. They are assets which pass to a beneficiary named on the document that was signed when the asset was created, such as property or a shared bank account.

Examples of beneficiary designations include family members, such as your spouse, domestic partner, children, parents and even grandchildren. In some cases, they could also include friends and romantic partners. Please note that in some states of the USA, beneficiaries who inherit from a non-relative may have to pay an inheritance tax on those assets.

Durable financial power of attorney

This is a simple way to arrange for someone to handle your finances if you become incapacitated or pass away, such as a spouse or other family members. Be careful who you choose to grant this immense power to. 

Durable medical power of attorney

This gives the person you appoint the power to make healthcare decisions for you if you become incapacitated. 

Living will

Also known as an advance healthcare directive, it is a written statement detailing your desires about medical treatment in circumstances where you are no longer able to express informed consent (for example, due to incapacitation). 

Life insurance

The life insurance policy is one of the most important documents you should prepare as part of your end-of-life planning. It's a contract between an insurance policy holder and an insurer, in which the insurer pays a designated beneficiary a sum of money upon your death.

DNR and POLST forms

In the USA, the DNR form is also known as The Out-of-Hospital Do-Not-Resuscitate program, which allows you to decide that certain resuscitative measures will not be used on you.

The POLST form is also known as The Physician Orders for Life Sustaining Treatment. It is a written medical order from a doctor which will give you more control over what medical treatment you receive if you have a serious illness.  

End-of-life housing arrangements

This simply documents your preference on where the end of your life should occur. Typically, most people choose their home because it’s personal, intimate, private and family and friends can come to visit or stay anytime. Another choice is a hospital or specialty clinic if medical equipment and monitoring is needed. 

A plan for your digital assets

If you’re active on social media or on the internet in general, you can document what a trusted loved one should do with your accounts. Facebook, which pioneered thinking around this, allows you to assign a trusted family member or friend access to your account in the event of your death. They can either delete or deactivate your account for you if that’s what you instructed, or they can turn your profile into a sort of memorial page. Other social media platforms have followed suit. 

Funeral and burial arrangement instructions

Whether you have a pre-paid funeral plan or not, it’s a good idea to start detailing your funeral and burial arrangements. These include but are not limited to: hymns or poems, religious or non-religious ceremony, music, burial or cremation, as well as whether you want a memorial or celebration of life afterwards. 

Costs

According to a 2018 report by the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, titled “End-of-Life Medical Expenses”, out-of-pocket expenses in the last year of a person’s life can be around $9,530. On top of that, funeral arrangements, not including burial costs, can be anywhere between $9,000 and $13,000, and will continue to rise over the next decade. 

That’s why it’s important to get your financial assets and life insurance policy in order during your end-of-life planning process. 

End-of-life conversations with your family

Having a conversation with loved ones and close friends about this matter can be quite tough and uncomfortable. However, we recommend you have this conversation even if you think it’s a personal matter that should be kept to yourself. This is because end-of-life planning very much involves them. Think about it: if you become unable to make final decisions during your end-of-life period, it is other people who will have to implement the decisions you’ve already detailed in your end-of-life plan. 

Likewise, while you may already pay for a pre-paid funeral or have set up a funeral trust through your life insurance policy, the funds will ultimately go to your beneficiaries. Sooner or later, your family will have to get involved to some capacity, even if you’ve taken the financial burden off their shoulders. 

In addition, your wishes regarding the end of your life  are something your loved ones deserve to know. They can help you on your journey, so that you won’t have to walk that road alone. 

Looking ahead

Embarking on end-of-life planning can be a tough thing to do, especially since we have to face our own mortality while still alive and well. However, as you’ve learned from our journey today, preparing for the future is one of the most selfless and thoughtful things you can do for your loved ones. Remember to always look ahead, no matter where you are in life. 

One of the most important steps in end-of-life planning  is to choose the right funeral director. Check out our guide on finding trusted funeral directors to help you get started.

Additionally, If you would like to build a Living Timeline that will live on after your passing, you can create one here.

End-of-life planning can be an emotionally demanding task, and there's no doubt that it requires stirring bravery.  While we learn more about our mortality in the process, this thoughtful approach is a remarkable act of compassion towards those closest to us. 

An important step includes making sure you choose the right funeral director with reliable expertise to offer peace of mind for your loved ones during difficult times. 

In the process of end of life planning, you may have many meaningful memories of your life that you want to preserve. With Memories, you can now do this by creating a Living Timeline which can be shared today, and passed onto your loved ones and future generations when you die.