End of life planning involves setting out detailed instructions to tell your family and friends how you want your final moments to look. Rather than Estate planning - which focuses on allocating assets - an end of life plan is centred around personal choices like lifestyle, wellbeing and preferences around medical care and burial arrangements. An end of life plan should be more than just a conversation but a series of formal documents which provide guidance to your loved ones when you enter the final stage of your life.
A comprehensive end of life plan will include instructions for all aspects of your life when you become ill or otherwise incapacitated. It should detail any preferences for living arrangements, healthcare, financial decisions, and any logistics surrounding your death including an Estate plan, decisions surrounding funerals, burial arrangements or organ donation.
Since there are so many different elements which make up an end of life plan it is worth breaking the process down into smaller steps to make it easier to get started. If you haven’t already done the hard work the first step is to create an Estate Plan.
Protect your assets
Decide what medical care you want
Plan your future living arrangements
Decide on funeral and burial arrangements
Write an obituary or death notice
Manage your digital legacy
1. Protect your assets
To begin, create an inventory of all your assets and debts, then decide how you want these to be distributed. Create a will or a trust to make sure your assets will be protected. Identify your Beneficiaries and name an Executor to carry out your wishes when you die. For more details read our blog on Estate Planning.
2. Decide what medical care you want
Consider creating a medical or financial Power of Attorney or Advanced Care Directive. A Power of Attorney will authorise certain people to make decisions for you about medical care or finances if you become incapacitated. You can include specific instructions around medical decisions, for example, if you oppose the use of assisted ventilation in the situation you stop breathing on your own. You can also include preferences for holistic or natural medicines.
3. Plan your future living arrangements
Talk to your family and friends about your housing situation in the event you become incapacitated and can no longer care for yourself. Do you want to hire a support worker and remain in your own home, or would a family member be able to provide support for you? Is a retirement home or assisted living a better option to reduce any burden on your family. Leave detailed instructions so your family isn’t left guessing when the time comes.
4. Decide on funeral and burial arrangements
You can choose to organise all your burial arrangements up front either through a prepaid funeral or a funeral bond. The latter sets money aside in an account which can be used to pay the costs of a funeral after your death. You can leave instructions to loved ones about any preferences for your burial, if you would like to be buried in a plot alongside other family members or if you want to be cremated, and whether or not you want your ashes to be scattered. Alternatively, you can choose to register for tissue and organ donor or may wish to donate your body for scientific research.
5. Write an obituary or death notice
This is most commonly done after someone’s death by a family member of a close friend. But you can choose to write your own obituary or death notice ahead of time to relieve the pressure on your loved ones. It should include a full name, maiden name and any details you want remembered about your life. Your family can add the date and place of death as well as details for the funeral service when you pass away.
6. Manage your digital legacy
Most people have some form of social media these days, but they don’t automatically deactivate upon your death. Whether it’s Facebook, Instagram, Linkedin or Twitter, each platform has a different process for how they manage profiles for users who have died. Some allow you to set up a memorial page so people can continue to leave messages and share photos after you die. You can also authorise these providers to shut down accounts or deactivate them. It is worth creating a document with a list of all your social media accounts and their passwords with instructions detailing what your preferences are. This way someone you trust can carry out your wishes after you are gone.
The final step for end of life planning is to get all the paperwork neatly organised and store it in a safe place. Tell a trusted family member or solicitor where your documents are kept so they can act quickly when the time comes. Your paperwork should be made up of:
Birth, marriage, divorce or citizenship certificates;
Medicare and Centrelink details;
Financial documents including bank account statements, credit cards and investments;
Details and keys for safe deposit boxes or storage units;
Property titles or deeds;
Car registration and ownership papers;
Bank loan documents;
Superannuation and life insurance information;
Will, codicils and Trust details;
Power of Attorney documents or Advanced care directives;
Organ/Tissue Donor Registrations;
And funeral and burial arrangements.
End of life planning is a vital part of a comprehensive Estate Plan. It sets out a clear roadmap for your family and friends to follow when you reach the final stage of your life. It is an important way to guarantee you will have the best quality of life, on your own terms, when you start to lose your faculties.
Organising your affairs up front doesn’t just mean simply creating a will and forgetting about it. It should involve thinking about medical and housing decisions in the event you fall ill, and appointing someone to oversee those decisions when you can’t do it yourself. It can also be helpful to arrange your own funeral and burial decisions yourself. If you put in the hard work early on, it can reduce some of the burdens on yourself and your loved ones when the time comes.