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What Documents Need to be Prepared Before a Death?

Getty Images / Vladimir Godnik

These six papers need to be ready so everyone can rest a little easier

There are some basic, responsible steps every adult can take that will someday help both us and our loved ones feel as secure as possible when the end of life approaches. To start with, here's what you should know about the six key documents you can complete to ensure that your wishes will be known and your affairs settled before and after your death.


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Here's a quick overview of each document, along with links to more information.

Living Will. Your living will explains what kind of lifesaving procedures you want performed on you by medical personnel. For example, this includes CPR and life support. Read more

Disposition of Body. This form indicates what you want done with your remains after your death, for example, cremation or burial or donation to a medical facility. Read more

Durable Power of Attorney (POA): Health Care Directive. This form designates a person to make health-related decisions for you, only while you are unable to make them — for example, if you are unconscious. If you become able to make decisions and convey them again, this power reverts back to you. Read more

Durable Power of Attorney (POA): Financial. This is similar to the previous form, only the person with power of attorney will be able to manage your finances by signing checks to pay bills, handle your accounts, and so on. Like POA for health, this is also cancelled if you become able to handle your own finances again. Read more

HIPAA Release. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) protects the privacy of your health information and specifies that your health care providers can't discuss your medical information with anyone who isn't directly involved in your medical care. A HIPAA release form designates specific people with whom your doctors CAN discuss things like your diagnosis and treatment. Read more

Last Will & Testament. Your will indicates what will happen to your possessions and assets after your death. You can hire a lawyer to write your will based on your input, or you can prepare your own will. Read more

Once you've completed these six documents, one of the most important things you can do is make sure your loved ones know what's in them and where they are. Don't lock them up in a safe or a password-protected file where no one can get to them — show them to your loved ones and keep the documents somewhere easy to access. (One popular suggestion is to seal the documents in a gallon-sized zipper bag and put them in your freezer.)

You should also plan to review your documents once a year to make sure they're still up to date. Some may not need any updating, but perhaps you have new assets or have gone through a divorce or other life changes that will change your wishes. Once you've done your yearly update, make a quick note of what updates you made and when, and file it along with the documents. Then set a reminder for yourself — on your phone or computer or calendar — to do in again in a year.

Last step? Talk to your loved ones and make sure their six documents are also created and up to date.


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