3 End of Life Documents Everyone Should Consider Having

  Sep 06, 2018

When people plan for their future, they often think about life’s happiest moments—starting a family, planning their career or saving for retirement. However, it may also make sense to consider what might happen at the end of life as well.

The end of someone’s life can be difficult. It might come suddenly with an accident, following a prolonged illness, or after a long and healthy life (if we’re very lucky). Since we don’t know what the future may bring, it can be a smart move to make plans that cover several different scenarios.

Here we’ll look at three common end-of-life documents that you might decide to write when planning for your future: advance directives, funeral wishes, and Wills.

Advance directive
Unlike other end-of-life documents you may be familiar with (such as a Will), an advance directive takes effect whilst you’re still alive. If there’s ever a time when you’re unable to make important decisions for yourself, this document could help guide your family, doctors, and other medical professionals.

An advance directive records your preferences or instructions for your medical care and some personal matters, should you be unable to make these decisions yourself. This might be needed in some worst-case medical situations, such as after having a stroke, developing dementia or falling into a coma. You can also grant someone power of attorney through an advance directive, giving them the power to make decisions on your behalf.

Funeral wishes
Contemplating your own death can be difficult. As a result, many people don’t think about what they might want (or not want) at their funeral. However, with funeral costs rising in many countries, a document outlining your funeral wishes might help your family navigate what is often a difficult time.

A funeral wishes document can be used to write down specific directions or general ideas for your service and burial. This may also include instructions on how to pay for the funeral, including bank account information or a funeral insurance policy you may have taken out for this purpose.

A Will—often formally referred to as one’s ‘Last Will and Testament’—is a legal document you may be familiar with. They are commonly viewed as an important part of estate planning. People are often advised to write a Will once they’re married, after purchasing a house or when they become parents.

There are several things a Will can do. At their most basic, a Will lets you pick who will control your estate after you’ve passed away. However, they can also name a guardian for minor children, make a special gift to a friend or family member, or donate money to a charity.

Why three documents?
Some people opt to combine some of the above papers into a single document for simplicity’s sake. However, there are benefits to maintaining a separate advance directive, funeral wishes document and Will.

Keeping your advance directive and funeral wishes separate from your Will could make it easier to ensure that these instructions are followed. Wills are usually not read until after a person’s funeral (sometimes the Will may not even be located for weeks following a death). This means that any wishes you have regarding end-of-life care or your burial will no longer be relevant. Keeping these apart from your Will also helps keep the contents of this document private, until it is needed.

Having three documents, rather than just one, also makes updating your advance directive and funeral wishes easier. There are usually very specific steps to follow when writing a legal Will, but the other two documents often don’t need to meet these same requirements. Combining all three could complicate matters if you decide to make a small change to something like which medical procedures you consent to or where you’d like to be buried.

Planning for the future
Whether you decide to add one, two or all three of these documents to your end-of-life plan, it may be wise to check the laws in your area before starting. Information may be available online or through a solicitor to help ensure that each is legally binding. You might also want to discuss these with your family, so when the time comes, everyone can be on the same page.

3 End of Life Documents Everyone Should Consider Having


James Buesing is a content writer for Momentum Life, a leading provider of life insurance and funeral insurance products in New Zealand. He specializes in finance writing.

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