5 Legal Documents to Fill Out Before You Die
Preparing for death is not only a matter of reaching a state of emotional and spiritual acceptance of your fate. Although coming to terms with your own mortality is an important part of the cycle of life, you also need to take some time to deal with the everyday bureaucracies. To ease the burden on your family and ensure that your wishes will be taken into account as you approach your final days, make sure you have these five documents filled out and filed with the appropriate overseeing body.
- Deeds/Titles: Any large-ticket item that you own (such as a house, vehicle, RV, parcel of land, or business) likely has a deed or title that certifies ownership. These items should be stored together in a place that is accessible to your heirs. This can be a safe, a safety deposit box, or even with your attorney—the location does not matter as long as you know where they all are and your beneficiaries can access them after your death.
- Will: Even if you do not own a vast amount of property to bequeath, or if everything you own will go to your spouse, it is a good idea for everybody to have a last will and testament. Not only will this document clearly outline how and where your money will go after you die, but it often includes things like parental rights, pet ownership, and even your final wishes regarding how you wish to be buried.
- Living Will: A regular will is a legal document that protects your heirs and family members; a living will is a legal document that protects you. This directive tells medical professionals how you wish to be treated and cared for in the event that you are unable to make your own medical decisions (because of an accident, injury, or terminal illness). This will cover all your wishes about things like DNR orders, breathing tubes, etc. (You may want to opt for a Power of Attorney in place of or in addition to this document. A Power of Attorney names a relative or friend who you authorize to make those decisions for you.)
- Passwords and Access Codes: In our digital age, so much of our information is stored online. Everything from your email account password to your bill paying apps and IRS tax account is kept there. Help your loved ones sort through this information by keeping a list of all the online accounts you use at least once a year, as well as the passcode or secret question to let them access this information. This will prevent them from having to send in a death certificate or jump through hoops every time they want to close an account.
- Letter of Intent: Pre-planning your funeral and paying all the expenses up front is the best way to ensure that your body is disposed of according to your exact wishes. However, this is not a financial option for everyone, which means you might want to write a Letter of Intent instead. This letter (which can be notarized or written alongside a will) outlines your express wishes for your body after you die. Although following this letter might not be a legal requirement for your loved ones, it can help them understand your wishes and help guide them when making decisions.