End of Life Planning

6/6/2022 | By Faith Boluwatife

While you may be aware of the benefits of writing a will, other important end-of-life documents can be equally beneficial, covering a mix of potential situations from medical concerns to after-death matters.

Especially as a senior adult, you should create these documents before you think you might need them. First, since life can be unpredictable, these documents give you more control if the unexpected happens. Second, they’ll help your loved ones and medical professionals carry out your wishes if you become incapacitated or after your death. Even after drawing up these documents, you can adjust and update if needed.

The following are some important end-of-life documents you should consider creating.

End-of-life documents on medical concerns

Advance directive and living will

An advance directive gives directions in advance at to what kind of medical care you want if you are unable to communicate your desires – for example, you are in a coma after an accident or surgery, have advanced dementia, or are terminally ill.

A type of advance directive, a living will details your preferences for medical care and treatment you would request – or not want. A living will helps to ensure that medical professionals carry out exactly what you want in relation to life-extending treatments.

This document can state preferences, such as whether or not you want tube feeding, dialysis, or resuscitation. It can detail choices on donating organs and tissues, pain management, and emergency surgery, as well as your cultural, religious, or personal preferences surrounding medical care.

Without a living will, medical professionals may be forced to do what is within their discretion to keep you alive. Also, decisions surrounding your medical care may be based on family members’ input, which may be contrary to your wishes. Lastly, your family members or dependents may be conflicted about making difficult end-of-life choices for you. A living will creates a better outcome for everyone – including you.

Health care proxy

concerned couple talking to lawyer photo by Prostockstudio Dreamstime. Besides a will, there are other important end-of-life documents that cover a mix of situations from medical concerns to after-death matters.

Also known as a power of attorney for health care, this document names a person or persons you trust as your proxy, to make certain medical care decisions on your behalf if you are no longer able to.

If you’re unable to communicate due to either a permanent or temporary illness, a medical professional may need to certify that you’re incapacitated, then your proxy will make medical decisions on your behalf. It is important that your health care proxy knows your personal and religious preferences.


A DNR – Do Not Resuscitate – details certain conditions under which you do not wish to be resuscitated through CPR or other life-sustaining procedures. This directs medical professionals to allow a natural death even if there’s a chance of being revived. For this document to be binding, your healthcare provider must sign it.

End-of-life documents concerning after-death matters


Probably the best known of the end-of-life documents, a last will and testament states what should be done with your assets and properties after your death: distributing assets, making charitable donations, etc. Also, you can control how your funeral is conducted by including such arrangements in your will and including resources for it.

To ensure you have control over what happens to your assets and who gets them, it is important to write up a will as early as possible. A contested will – or lack of a will – means that additional money goes to legal fees rather than to your preferred beneficiaries. A will includes your personal information, executor, assets, beneficiaries, designated guardians, and signed witnesses.

Related: Dividing Family Possessions: ‘Creating Legacy Through Objects’

Letter of intent

A letter of intent complements a will by providing information about important financial, personal, or funeral information: personal contacts, your financial and business contacts (such as attorneys, insurance agents and policies, accountants, etc.), important forms and documents, and the usernames and passwords for your online accounts, etc.

Though this document may not be legally binding, a letter of intent provides valuable information to your family or dependents to be used after your passing. As a more informal document, it allows you to share your wishes for funeral and burial arrangements, care for pets, division of personal items, etc.

Organ donation or organ donor card

This card states your wish to donate your organs or tissues, such as heart, liver, and stem cells, to someone in need after your death. Contact UNOS, the United Network for Organ Sharing, for information on signing up to be a donor.

Before- or after-death matters

These important end-of-life documents may affect financial matters both before and after your death.

Financial power of attorney

Just like the health care proxy, the financial power of attorney gives an individual of your choice the legal right to manage your financial affairs on your behalf. You can customize this document to include the financial responsibilities you want the agent to manage. Like many of these end-of-life documents, the financial power of attorney form is state-specific, and you’ll need to download a state-specific template to make it legally binding.

Related: Advice on family who refuses to make end-of-life plans

Living trust

A living trust form creates a legal entity, also known as a trust, to manage your assets such as real estate, funds, and other valuables. You designate a trustee to manage your assets for the benefit of the eventual beneficiary(ies). A living trust allows for easier transfer of assets by bypassing the complex and expensive legal process of probate.

These important end-of-life documents will help you ensure your family and medical providers carry out your wishes in situations where you can’t state them. Creating these documents as soon as possible will put your mind at rest, knowing you have control over important decisions that matter to you.

Faith Boluwatife

Faith Boluwatife is an enthusiastic freelancer and regular contributor for seniorsguide.com. As an experienced writer, Faith has created content for diverse industries.