Below are five steps from NPR’s Life Kit that can help you tackle such a daunting task while keeping your family centered in the process.
Name an executor
Estate planning is not just for the wealthy. If you have lots of possessions, real estate and investments, it’s wise to turn to a lawyer, but for those with a more modest lifestyle, online forms or local pro bono attorneys can assist in this process.
The person you name as executor—or personal representative—should be someone you trust to follow your wishes and take care of the details after your death. It will most likely be a spouse, member of your family or a close family friend. Whoever you choose, make sure to have a one-on-one conversation with them before putting your intentions in writing.
While it may be uncomfortable at first, the conversation can be as simple as, “Would you be comfortable wrapping up my estate when I die?” You can walk them through what you would like to happen, or you can simply leave your directives in your will.
List everything you own. This list should definitely include things that are financially valuable, like bank accounts, retirement savings and your car. It should also have items of sentimental value: books, jewelry, photo albums. Next to each item or group of items, indicate who they should be passed down to.
It’s also important to give your executor or another trusted individual access to your digital accounts as they are part of your property. This includes social media accounts, online subscriptions, phone access, credit card rewards and online dating profiles.
Be sure to keep your inventory up-to-date depending on possessions and relationships throughout the years.
Think about healthcare decisions
A will takes care of everything that happens after you die. An advance directive is a legal document that addresses healthcare wishes before you pass.
The first part of an advance directive is giving someone power of attorney so they can make medical decisions on your behalf. The other part, covered below, is a living will.
Create a living will
A living will addresses questions about your treatment preferences. Would you like pain medication? Do you want to be resuscitated? Are you okay with being sustained by a ventilator?
An advance directive is an important legal document to have. When left to family members, decisions about end-of-life care can be heartbreaking and divisive. Express your wishes beforehand so they can feel assured the care you receive is what you would have wanted.
Consider emotional and spiritual aspects of death
The legal aspects surrounding the end of your life are important but the emotional and spiritual needs of yourself and the ones you love are essential. Put in writing your wishes for an end-of-life celebration or funeral. Provide words of love and encouragement for your family and friends. Donate money or resources to causes that are close to your heart.
However you prepare for the end of your life, do so in celebration of the life you’ve lived. It doesn’t have to be a morbid or scary process. In fact, it’s a great time to reflect on what you’ve done with your time here and what you still wish to accomplish or experience.