Planning for what happens after you pass away isn’t for you, it’s for the people you love. You don’t want to burden your family with financial, legal and logistical problems while they’re grieving.
These 10 steps will help you get your affairs in order:
- Have a will and update it periodically. A will designates executors, guardians and trustees. Your executor’s first task is to locate your will. To facilitate that, place the original in an envelope with your name and “Will” written on it. Then keep the envelope in a fireproof metal box, file cabinet or home safe.
- Have a health care directive (living will). A living will is a medical directive written in advance that sets forth your preference for treatment in the event of your inability to direct care. It can include when to initiate the directive and who has the decision-making responsibility to withdraw or withhold treatment.
- Have powers of attorney. The person you select as your financial and/or healthcare power of attorney should be your spouse or a close friend or relative. Whoever you designate will be authorized to manage your affairs, typically financial ones, if you’re not able to handle them yourself.
- Have life insurance. The right life insurance coverage can help keep your dreams alive for your family even if you’re not there. Determining how much to buy can be complicated, so it’s important to seek assistance from an insurance professional.
- Review beneficiary designations for your various financial accounts, including group and individual benefits like life insurance and 401(k)s. Check annually to ensure those named in your insurance policies and retirement plans are still relevant to your needs and wishes. Many people think that if they have a will, they are covered. However, beneficiaries designated in documents generally fall outside the scope of a will, so it’s critical that you keep your policies and records updated.
- Specify where important financial account information is located. It may sound like an obvious thing to do, but few people keep a list of where important records pertaining to their savings, retirement plans, college-funding plans, mortgage and insurance reside. Keep a master list and review it annually to check for changes or additions.
- Specify where important non-financial information and valuables are located, such as marriage certificates, birth certificates, titles/deeds for the house/cars, passports, jewelry, safe deposit box key, items in storage, etc.
- Specify your final arrangements, such as burial or cremation, where you want to be buried, whether or not you want to be an organ donor, etc.
- Have a list of professionals who assist you with your family’s legal and financial affairs (insurance professional, attorney, accountant, etc.).
- Explain to heirs how your trust works. Trusts are often a useful legal and estate-planning device for protecting assets from estate taxes and providing a vehicle that ensures survivors get proper administrative and investment advice and counsel. An attorney is the best source of information about trusts and whether one would be appropriate for you.
Planning for the end of life can feel uncomfortable, but preparing as much as possible and discussing these items with your family can make all the difference. It can help ease your concerns about the future, ensure your wishes are met, and protect the people you love.