Get Your Affairs in Order

In case of emergency, break glass. When considering health and wellness, being prepared is not always just about those medical documents. It’s also about providing a quick and easy means for your family members or emergency contacts to gain access to key death planning and essential legal documents when necessary. (Without having to break the glass — or step through too many hoops during a very stressful time.)

A gift for your loved ones – because life happens

While planning ahead for catastrophic events might feel morbid or lead to very emotional discussions, this work is a gift for yourself and for those who love you most. There are many roles and responsibilities listed below. You can lessen the emotional burden on your family and friends by dividing such burdens up. These types of decisions can be a lot for one person to handle when the time comes.  

A Will:

Perhaps the most fundamental legal document to have in place when it comes to planning for death. At its most basic level, a will outlines how your assets will be distributed. It should also specify who you want as guardians for any dependents. It’s crucial to ensure this document is up-to-date to reflect current relationships and assets. A will is certainly a gift to those left behind. The last thing anyone needs is to fight over children or how to fairly divide assets. 

HIPAA Release Form:

Allows designated individuals to access your medical records. This form is essential for family members or caregivers who will need to make informed decisions about another’s health. It is especially relevant when and if the patient is not able to communicate. You may want to give access to all adult children, as well as your spouse or partner. And for any empty nesters, you should have these forms filled when your adult children leave. An accident on campus can create a panic if you are not designated to receive health-related information over the phone.

A living will is essential for preventing unnecessary suffering and financial burden from unwanted medical procedures

Durable Power of Attorney:

Appoints a trusted person to handle your affairs if you become unable to do so yourself. This could include financial decisions or managing day-to-day affairs, making it invaluable during unexpected health crises. 

Health Care Proxy (Medical Power of Attorney):

Someone chosen as an advocate to make medical decisions on your behalf if you’re incapacitated. This person needs to understand your medical treatment preferences, end-of-life care wishes — and be trusted to carry them out.

A Living Will:

Provides specific instructions to your health care proxy on what types of medical treatment you wish to receive or avoid. This document is essential for preventing unnecessary suffering and financial burden from unwanted medical procedures. It can remove some of the very emotional and stressful decisions that others will have to make on your behalf. 

Family members dealing with any type of decision on top of grief might actually argue over the smallest of details – like music, photos to share, or who gets to speak

Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) Order:

A medical order indicating that you do not want CPR if your heart stops or intubation if you stop breathing. This is really critical for those of an advanced age or chronically ill-health who wish to have a natural end of life without aggressive life-sustaining interventions. 

Digital Asset Trust or Authorization:

Ensures individuals that you trust have access to your digital life without legal hurdles. In today’s digital age, managing online accounts and digital properties like social media and email accounts post-mortem is essential. You might want your Facebook, LinkedIn, or Instagram accounts disabled — and you’d be surprised how hard that can be.

Letter of Intent:

Non-binding document that provides additional death-planning instructions and clarifications about your personal wishes that aren’t covered in a will. This can include funeral preferences or specific thoughts about how you want your heirs to use their inheritance. If you have ever planned a funeral for someone that has not widely shared their wishes (or shared anything at all), you recognize the importance here. Family members dealing with any type of decision on top of grief might actually argue over the smallest of details — like music, photos to share, or who gets to speak. 

Trust Documents:

For more complex estates or specific wishes about how you want your assets to be handled over time, setting up trusts can be effective. Trusts can help minimize taxes, protect assets from creditors, and dictate terms that control how and when beneficiaries receive their inheritance.

Preparedness is priceless; give yourself peace of mind

As we age, these types of conversations around planning for the future increase in importance. Not just for our loved ones, but for ourselves. My mom recently had a medical scare — and her main concern was being able to “say goodbye.” Her worries were not focused on documents or decisions that my siblings and I would have to make. She is, thankfully, okay, and we are thankful for her very thoughtful planning. 

While organizing these documents can seem daunting, there are resources these days that can make it easier. Depending on your specific needs, you could visit any of the following online death-planning resources for additional information:

LegalZoom, Rocket Lawyer, Everplans, Trust & Will, DocuBank, or Quicken WillMaker & Trust. 

Being properly prepared with an ICE plan can ensure that your wishes are understood and respected — and ease the logistical and emotional burden on your loved ones during difficult times. Regular reviews with a legal advisor (online or in person) are recommended to keep all documents up-to-date with current laws and your personal circumstances.

P.S. The road to wills and wishes started with the mindful methodology behind Swedish Death Cleaning, a link in case you missed it.