Most people would list among end-of-life documents a will, a trust, an advance directive, a DNR (do not resuscitate) order, and a durable power of attorney. But the list of documents that deal with end-of-life issues is much longer. Deeds to real property, beneficiary declaration for life insurance, and the signature card to a bank account are all end-of-life documents. They determine who gets what and through which legal procedure when someone dies.
Fortunately, checklists to help create an end-of-life plan are available through a number of trustworthy organizations. Among them:
- MOAA’s Help Your Survivors Now: A Guide to Planning Ahead
- VA’s Planning Your Legacy
- Military.com’s Military Retiree Survivor Checklist
- State Bar Association articles and forms
Research these resources, pick a checklist, or create one of your own. Gather legal documents you already have, including will, trust documents, health care directives, powers of attorney, beneficiary designations, asset inventory, deeds, military papers, instructions to access digital accounts, and contact information for family.
Consult professionals — lawyer, accountant, insurance agent, financial advisor — to help put together the plan, and then review, update, redraft, and re-execute documents, lists, and paperwork when needed.
At least once a year, review and update the plan. Have circumstances changed? Do the documents do what they are intended to do? Have state or federal laws affecting any of these documents changed? Are lists of assets current? Are titles to real estate, bank accounts, and vehicles correct? Are beneficiary designations still good?
Discuss your plan with those who hold health care proxy, powers of attorney, and other authority over your person and property. Put documents in a safe place, yet where they can be accessed by those in whom you have placed trust.
Be proactive. End-of-life documents are in reality life’s documents. Deal with them now.