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Organizing Your Legacy: A Practical Guide to End-of-Life Planning Thumbnail

Organizing Your Legacy: A Practical Guide to End-of-Life Planning

As uncomfortable as it may be, planning for the end of life is a responsible and considerate act that can bring peace of mind to both individuals and their loved ones. Getting your affairs in order ensures that your wishes are respected, and the transition is as smooth as possible for those you leave behind. In this guide, we will explore 12 essential steps to take in order to prepare for the inevitable. 

1. Create a Will: 

  • A will is a legal document that outlines how you want your assets to be distributed after your passing.   
  • The will specifies beneficiaries for your property, investments, and personal belongings.  Personal belongings (such as jewelry and collectibles) are often distributed from a separate document which can be updated without changes to your will.
  • Appoint an executor to carry out your wishes and ensure that your will is properly filed and administered.  Often times, this calls for a person who is trustworthy, well-organized, and able to navigate family tensions and stresses.
  • Keep all legal documents in a secure location in your home or office and inform trusted individuals of their whereabouts. We do not suggest a safe deposit box, as upon death, the box will be sealed and not accessible.

2. Update Beneficiary Designations: 

  • Review and update beneficiary designations on retirement accounts, life insurance policies, and other assets. 
  • Ensure that your beneficiaries are current and accurately reflect your wishes, and align with your will. 
  • Be aware that beneficiary designations often override instructions in your will, so it's essential to keep them up-to-date.

3. Establish a Durable Power of Attorney for Finances: 

  • A Durable Power of Attorney for Finances (DPAF) is a crucial legal document empowering you to appoint an individual (referred to as your financial agent or attorney in fact) to manage your financial affairs if you become incapacitated. 
  • With a DPAF in place, you retain control over your financial decisions for as long as you are capable. The authority granted to your financial agent only becomes effective when you are unable to manage your own affairs. 
  • Choosing a trustworthy and assertive individual is paramount. Select someone who understands your financial preferences and can navigate potential challenges from caregivers or family members.
  • It is a good idea to sign your DPAF in front of a notary because some banks and government agencies require these documents to be notarized.  Also, some financial institutions require their own forms to be used, so do your research. 
  • Clearly communicate your financial goals and preferences to your agent, specifying the types of transactions you approve and identify any limitations on their authority.  It's crucial to inform other family members that your financial agent(s) hold the final authority in financial matters on your behalf. 

4. Establish a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care: 

  • A Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care (DPAHC) is the legal means by which you designate someone (referred to as your health care agent, surrogate decision maker, health care proxy, or attorney in fact) to make health care decisions if for any reason you should lose the capacity to do so. 
  • In Washington, you must sign the DPAHC document in front of either a notary or two witnesses. The two witnesses cannot be a health care provider in your home or long-term care facility nor can they be related to you by blood, marriage, or state registered domestic partnership.
  • Once the DPAHC is in place, you continue to make your own care decisions for as long as you are able. It is only when you cannot make your wishes known that your health care agent can act.  When you are again able to make your own decisions, your agent loses power to make decisions for you.  
  • It is very important to pick someone you trust and who knows your wishes. It is also important to choose an individual you feel can be assertive in the event that caregivers or family members challenge your wishes.
  • Let your agent know exactly what kind of care you want to have, and what types of treatment you do and do not wish to have. Make clear to other family members that your health care agent(s) will have final authority to act on your behalf. If you feel that certain family members will not honor your wishes, you may include a statement directing physicians and the courts to disregard his or her demands and to follow only the directives of your agent(s).

5. Include Advance Health Care Directives: 

  • A Health Care Directive (also known as a living will, directive to physician, or physician directive) is a legal statement to all your health care providers that describes your general wishes or desires for end-of-life care.
  • In particular, Health Care Directives speak to the question of whether and how you want to be kept alive by medical treatment if you are unable to make decisions.  
  • Your Health Care Directive should specifically state the life sustaining treatments you do or do not want. These should include resuscitation, use of an artificial ventilator, and artificial nutrition and hydration. It should be in all your medical records.
  • When you present your Health Care Directive to your physician, ask if he or she will honor it. If not, find a physician who will.  In order to make a Health Care Directive legally binding, you must sign the document in the presence of two qualified, adult witnesses.  
  • A Health Care Directive can prevent colossal family conflict about your wishes for treatment if you become unconscious or unable to make medical decisions.

6. Consider a Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST): 

  • The Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST) is an essential document intended for adults with serious health conditions.
  • It is a medical order signed by a health care professional, typically a physician, providing specific instructions for end-of-life care.
  • You (or your health care agent) and your physician may use POLST to write clear and specific medical orders that indicate what types of life sustaining treatment you want or do not want at the end of life. Both the maker and a physician must sign the bright green form in order for it to be honored by other health care professionals. No witnessing or notarizing is required. Emergency Medical Services (EMS) personnel are required to honor POLST, and it remains with you if you are transported between care settings.  
  • The POLST form is relatively new in Washington, and many physicians are still unaware of it. If your physician does not have POLST forms available, ask her or him to contact the Washington State Medical Association (https://wsma.org/POLST).  
  • Properly completed, the POLST form is probably the most effective advance directive because your wishes are expressed as medical orders.
  • Unlike living wills or durable power of attorney, the POLST is immediately actionable, offering guidance on critical medical interventions such as resuscitation, intubation, and antibiotic use.

7. Document Financial Information: 

  • Compile a comprehensive list of your financial accounts, assets, and debts. 
  • Provide clear instructions on how to access important documents, passwords, and account information. 
  • Keep this information in a secure but accessible location, and make sure your agent is aware of its location. 

 8. Review Life Insurance and Funeral Plans: 

  • Ensure your life insurance policy is up-to-date and provides adequate coverage. 
  • Consider pre-planning your funeral arrangements, including preferences for burial or cremation, ceremony details, and any specific wishes. 
  • Burial plans are best identified in a standalone document, and the agent for carrying out your wishes is aware of its location.  Your loved ones should be informed in advance of your intentions.  

9. Don’t Forget Digital Assets:

  • Identify and list your digital assets, including online accounts, social media profiles, photo access, and any cryptocurrency holdings.  Consider use of a password manager for safeguarding account and password information. 
  • Provide instructions on how to access important digital files or information. 
  • Specify your preferences for managing or closing these accounts upon your death. 

10. Organize Personal Records: 

  • Gather important documents such as birth certificates, marriage certificates, and property deeds. 
  • Make a list of contacts for key individuals like lawyers, accountants, and financial advisors. 

11. Communicate Your Wishes: 

  • Openly discuss your end-of-life wishes with family members and loved ones.  Keep in mind these are sensitive topics, so approach conversations with empathy and understanding. 
  • Address any concerns or questions others may have and ensure they are aware of the location of your important documents.   
  • Include wishes as to pets and other animals which are an important part of your life. 

12. Regularly Review and Update: 

  • Life circumstances change, so it's crucial to review and update your end-of-life plan regularly. 
  • Update your will, beneficiaries, and other documents to reflect any changes in your personal or financial situation. 
  • Consider consulting with financial advisors, estate planners, or other professionals to enhance the thoroughness of your end-of-life planning. 

Taking the time to get your end-of-life affairs in order is a thoughtful and considerate way to care for yourself and your loved ones. By planning ahead, you can ensure that your wishes are honored, and the transition is more manageable for those left behind. While it may be a difficult topic to address, the peace of mind that comes from knowing your affairs are in order is a valuable gift to yourself and your family.   

Feel free to reach out to Pacific Asset Management if you want your end-of-life plan discussed and evaluated. 

Disclosure: This material is presented solely for information purposes and has been gathered from sources believed to be reliable, however, Pacific Asset Management cannot guarantee the accuracy or completeness of such information, and certain information presented here may have been condensed or summarized from its original source. The preceding information is not intended to be tax, legal or accounting advice, and nothing contained in these materials should be relied upon as such. It may not be used for the purpose of avoiding any federal tax penalties. Please consult legal or tax professionals for specific information regarding your individual situation. Nothing in this presentation in intended to serve as personalized investment, tax, or insurance advice, as such advice depends on your individual facts and circumstances. Advisory services are only offered to clients or prospective clients where Pacific Asset Management and its representatives are properly licensed or exempt from licensure. No advice may be rendered by Pacific Asset Management unless a client service agreement is in place.
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