How to Prepare for Your Death: 10 Steps You Should Take Now
No one likes to think about their own death, but it's an important topic to consider. Whether death comes suddenly or after a long battle with illness, there are certain things that need to be taken care of in order to make the process as smooth as possible for both you and your loved ones. In order to help your family, there are many things to do to prepare for death and to ensure there is as little stress as possible.
Death preparation is vital to ensure that your final wishes are carried out and that your loved ones are taken care of after you're gone. But death preparation goes beyond just making a will or planning a funeral. There are a number of things you should do to get your affairs in order before you die. Generally, these tasks are considered "estate planning" and are great steps to follow to ensure you and your loved ones are prepared when the time comes.
How to prepare for your own death
Steps you'll take towards death preparation can vary depending on a number of factors, including whether death is anticipated or not, your age, your financial situation, your relationship status, and whether you have children. However, there are some key steps everyone should take to prepare for their death, no matter their individual circumstance.
1. Gather important documentation.
One of the most important things you can do to prepare for your death is to gather all of your important documents in one place. This documentation should include things like your birth certificate, Social Security card, passport, will, trusts, financial statements, insurance policies, mortgage documents, and any other legal documents. Having all of this information in one place will make it much easier for your loved ones to deal with your death, as they will know exactly where to find everything they need.
Once you've gathered these death preparation documents, properly label and store them in a safe place. You may want to consider keeping them in a fireproof and waterproof safe, or you may opt to give them to a trusted friend or family member to keep for you. Just be sure that whoever will be responsible for handling your affairs after you pass knows where they are and how to access them.
Inform your intended executor of the estate (and potentially other trusted family members) of the location of these documents. It's also a good idea to write down the location of these documents in your will and in any other instructional document you intend on having your family read over when the time comes.
You can notify your loved ones and record the location of your important documents in Ever Loved's pre-death checklist.
2. Create an advanced directive.
An advanced directive, also known as a living will, is a legal document that outlines your wishes for medical treatment in the event that you are unable to communicate them yourself. This document can be incredibly important, as it ensures that your loved ones and medical team know exactly what you want (and don't want) in terms of life-saving measures and other medical treatments.
In your advanced directive, you should include things like whether you want to be placed on life support, what kind of pain management you're comfortable with, and any other medical treatment preferences you have. It's important to be as specific as possible in your advanced directive so that there is no confusion about your wishes.
Creating an advanced directive is relatively simple and can usually be done without the help of a lawyer. However, it's important to make sure that your advanced directive is properly signed and witnessed so that it will be considered legal. Once you've created your advanced directive, be sure to give copies to your loved ones, your doctor, and your intended executor of the estate. You may also want to keep a copy in your important documents file (mentioned in step one).
If you have specific wishes for what should happen to your body after death (such as cremation or burial), you can include those instructions in your advanced directive as well. Advanced directives are useful for anyone, whether you're dealing with a chronic illness or not. Whether you're researching how to prepare for death from cancer, are planning for death and dying while healthy, or are just doing preliminary research, it's a good time to start an advanced directive. You never know what can happen and want to be as prepared as possible in the event of an accident or an illness worsens. Preparing an advanced directive can give you some peace of mind knowing that your wishes will be followed when the time comes.
3. Write a will.
One of the most important things you can do to prepare for your own death is to write a will. A will is a legal document that outlines how you want your belongings to be distributed after you die. Without a will, the state will determine how your assets will be divided, which may not be in line with your wishes.
When writing your will, you'll need to designate an executor, who will be responsible for carrying out your wishes. You'll also need to list all of your assets and how you want them to be distributed. If you have children, you'll need to designate a guardian for them in your will, as well.
It's important to keep your will up to date, as your assets (and your wishes for them) may change over time. You should review your will every few years and make changes as needed. You should also update your will if you have any major life changes, such as getting married, having children, or buying a new home.
Writing a will can seem like a daunting task, but there are many resources available to help you. You can easily start a will online or hire a lawyer to assist you. If all of that seems like too much, simply writing your wishes down on a piece of paper is a great start when considering how to prepare for your own death.
Once your will is complete, be sure to give copies to your executor, your spouse, and any other trusted family members or friends. You may also want to keep a copy in your important documents file (mentioned in step one).
You should avoid keeping your will in a place where it can be easily found, as it may be tampered with if it's not stored securely. Having a will is an excellent step to take when thinking of how to prepare your family for your death, as it offers them a guide when the time comes.
Want to set your family up for success? Check out Ever Loved's getting affairs in order before death checklist for an easy checklist you can share with your family that has useful information for them to go off of.
4. Identify and appoint a power of attorney.
A power of attorney (POA) is a legal document that gives someone else the authority to make decisions on your behalf. You can appoint a POA for financial matters, healthcare decisions, or both. This can be incredibly useful if you become incapacitated and are unable to make decisions for yourself.
When choosing a power of attorney, it's important to appoint someone you trust implicitly. This person will have a lot of responsibility, so you want to be sure that they're up for the task. You should also choose someone who lives close by, as they may need to act quickly on your behalf. Finally, be sure to appoint an alternate POA in case your first choice is unavailable or unable to serve.
Once you've chosen your power of attorney, you'll need to complete the appropriate legal paperwork. This will vary depending on your state's laws, so be sure to do your research. Once the paperwork is complete, you should give copies to your POA, your spouse, and any other trusted family members or friends. You should keep a copy in your important documents file (mentioned in step one).
It's a good idea to review your power of attorney periodically, as your relationship with your POA may change over time. Additionally, it's important to note that there are two types of POAs: durable and non-durable. A durable POA remains in effect even if you become incapacitated, while a non-durable POA only applies when you're able to make decisions for yourself, which is generally less helpful for estate planning as a result.
5. Choose (or update) your beneficiaries.
Your beneficiaries are the people (or organizations) who will inherit your assets when you die. You can name primary and contingent beneficiaries, and you can change your beneficiaries at any time. When choosing your beneficiaries, it's important to consider your family dynamics and personal relationships. You may also want to consider naming a charity as a beneficiary, as this can offer tax benefits to your estate.
Once you've chosen your beneficiaries, you'll need to update your life insurance policy, retirement accounts, and investment accounts. You should also update your will (mentioned in step three) to reflect your new beneficiaries.
It's a good idea to review your beneficiaries periodically, as your relationship with them may change over time. You may also want to consider naming a contingent beneficiary, as this can offer protection in case your primary beneficiary is unable or unwilling to serve.
6. Look into starting a living trust.
A living trust is a legal document that allows you to transfer your assets to your beneficiaries without going through probate. Probate is a lengthy and expensive process, so a living trust can be a helpful way to avoid it.
There are two types of living trusts: revocable and irrevocable. A revocable trust can be changed at any time, while an irrevocable trust cannot be changed once it's been created.
If you're considering starting a living trust, it's important to consult with an attorney. This is because the process can be complex, and you'll want to make sure that everything is done correctly.
Once you've decided to start a living trust, you'll need to transfer your assets into the trust. This can be done by retitling your property or changing the ownership of your accounts. You should also update your will (mentioned in step three) to reflect your new trusts.
7. Consider purchasing life insurance or setting aside funds.
If you have dependents, it's important to make sure that they're taken care of financially if something happens to you. One way to do this is to purchase life insurance. Life insurance can provide a death benefit that can be used to cover expenses like your final expenses, your mortgage, and your family's living expenses.
Another way to make sure your dependents are taken care of is to set aside funds in a designated account. This account can be used to cover expenses like your final expenses and your family's living expenses.
8. Think about your final arrangements.
Your final arrangements are the plans you make for disposition and memorialization. Planning these arrangements in advance helps your family know what type of services you want (or if you'd even like services) and what to do with your remains when the time comes. Some may consider this process as an incredibly important step in death preparation.
If you're unsure what types of methods of dispositions are available to you, this is a good time to research and consider what feels right. The methods of disposition include:
- Cremation: Cremation is a process of reducing the body to ashes through the use of heat.
- Burial: Burial typically involves placing the deceased in a casket and burying them in a cemetery.
- Green burial: Green burial is a type of burial that focuses on using eco-friendly methods and materials.
- Alkaline hydrolysis: Alkaline hydrolysis is a process of breaking down the body with water and chemicals.
- Body donation: Donation typically involves donating the body to science for research or medical training. The body is cremated at the end of this process and the cremains are typically returned to the family. Donating a body to science is often free.
Another big part of planning your final arrangements is to consider the type of service you'll want to have (or if you want services at all). This can be a difficult decision, as it's often hard to imagine our own death. Typically, services fall into three categories: funerals and memorials.
A funeral is a formal service that's usually held shortly after death and is a somber, more traditional service. A memorial, on the other hand, is a less formal service that can be held at any time (often after the body has been cremated or buried).
A celebration of life is a type of memorial that's focused on celebrating the life of a loved one rather than focusing on the loss. Some people prefer to have a traditional service with all the bells and whistles, while others prefer a more simple service (or no service at all). There's no right or wrong answer here, it's simply a matter of preference.
Once you've decided on your final arrangements, you should make sure that your family knows your wishes. This can be done by telling your loved ones what you want and writing down your wishes in an accessible space. It can also be included on the preparing for death checklist on Ever Loved.
9. Ensure your digital assets are taken care of.
In our increasingly digital world, it's important to make sure that your digital assets are taken care of when you die. Your digital assets can include things like:
- Social media accounts
- Domain names
- Online banking and financial accounts
- Investment accounts
- Email accounts
- Photos and other files stored online
- Other online accounts
If you have any of these types of assets, you should have a plan for what should happen to them when you die. Handling these assets is a part of digital estate planning and is essential when setting your family up for success after you pass away.
10. Inform your family.
One of the most important steps in death preparation is to make sure your family is aware of your wishes and knows what to do when you die. This can be done by having a conversation with your loved ones about your wishes and by creating a death plan that outlines what needs to be done.
Your death plan should include things like:
- Your funeral or memorial service wishes
- Who should be notified of your death
- What needs to be done with your body
- How to access your financial and legal documents
- How to handle your social media accounts and other online assets
Making sure your family is prepared for your death will take a load off of their shoulders during an already difficult time.
Ready to get started? Check out Ever Loved's death planning guide. This death planning workbook is easy for you to fill out, easy to share with your loved ones, and is entirely free.