After Life Planning and Funeral Planning
Making after life arrangements for yourself can be a daunting task for a number of reasons. In addition to the funeral planning and planning for disposition services, there is the question of assets to your heirs. This page aims to help you navigate the swamp of legalese surrounding post-life plans and give you the confidence to do after life planning yourself.
The three main categories in after life planning are: distribution of your assets, medical instructions if incapacitated, and funeral and disposition wishes. We’ll explore each of these.
Available Legal Structures
Last Will and Living Wills
There are two main legal structures that are associated with end of life planning. These are a last will and testament, or will, which specifies how your property and assets (also called your estate) are distributed, and a living will, which specifies your wishes with regards to health care in the event that you are not able to make the decision yourself (e.g., if you’re in a coma). With each structure, you name trusted individuals as managers for the structures. For a living will the manager is an executor, and for a living will a power of attorney.
Why are managers necessary? Simply put, because you will not be able to enforce your wishes yourself. Executors are legally responsible for carrying out your wishes with respect to your estate. Powers of attorney are legally the only individuals that can make health care decisions in the event you’re incapacitated.
There are also non-legally binding documents. A digital will is a recent concept that allows one to specify managers for their online accounts. This can include login credentials for sites you wish others to have access to. Otherwise websites frequently will not be able to give you the credentials of a passed loved one, even with proof of relationship. You can learn more about digital wills here.
Letter of Instruction
Another non-legally binding document is a letter of instruction. This letter states your wishes, whether it be for funeral arrangements or an addendum about property. Letters of instruction are nice, because there are no legal requirements about how they’re written and stated. The downside is that because they’re not legally backed, no one is required to follow your wishes directly. Thus, letters of instruction are best for calling attention to something your family may not know about, or instructions for how to find something hidden away.
Orbital Memorials gives customers of the Living Memorial a letter of instruction for its legal simplicity.
Creating the necessary documents
While it is commonly thought you must have an attorney create a will or living will for you, often times you can write it yourself. For many states, the requirement list is minimal. Requiring only:
- the testator be 18 years or older
- of “sound mind”
- the document must be signed
- the document must list beneficiaries
Storing and maintaining Documents
Once your documents have been created and have legal standing, it is important to keep them safe until their use is necessary.
If you created your documents through an attorney, they will often hold onto a copy of document for you. If you took the DIY approach, you’ll have to store it yourself. If you store it on your local premises, it is recommended to purchase a fire-proof, water-proof safe box to keep the documents. Another option is to leave it with your local county clerk, often for a fee. Whichever approach you take, it is important to notify your executor(s) where your will is stored. Otherwise there may not be a way to fulfill your wishes.
Now you have a solid foundation for after life planning. There are many resources available to help you design your will, living will, or letter of instructions. In addition to the resources we’ve included inline, here is a short list of resources we’ve found to be useful to our customers.
Legal Definitions at a Glance
Probate – The legal process whereby a will is proven valid in a court and accepted as a valid document
Executor – A named person who is responsible for following through on fulfilling wishes specified in a Last Will and Testament
Power of attorney – A named person who is responsible for following medical decisions on your behalf
Last Will and Testament – Legal document that specifies the distribution of your estate
Living will – Legal document that specifies what medical choices should be made in the event of incapacitation
Letter of instructions – A non-legal document specifying any variety of wishes such as disposition or funeral arrangements
While we try to be as accurate and informative as possible, this website does not provide legal advice and is not a law firm. Legal structures of wills vary and depend on state, federal and local law. Consult an accredited lawyer for any and all legal advice. There is no claim that this information is comprehensive.