It can feel morbid to think about your final days when you're young and healthy, but putting off those difficult conversations with your loved ones can make your death that much more difficult for them. In other words, it’s not fun to prepare for the inevitable, but it’s important—and you don’t need to be over 60 to start planning.
“No one thinks of themselves as old until they are sick or disabled,” Alix Foisy, a Retirement Transitions Specialist, tells mental_floss. “And this can really happen at any time.”
You don’t need a huge net worth or a large amount of assets to start thinking about planning for old age, either. Here are some end-of-life planning tasks to tackle—for yourself and your parents—sooner rather than later.
1. WRITE YOUR WILL.
If you do have assets, like a retirement savings account or other investments, you want to make sure to name your beneficiaries—the people who will inherit your assets—on those accounts. You can likely do this online or by calling your investment firm. That’s just the first part of the process, though. You also need a last will and testament.
This document establishes what happens to your property, pets, and children after you die. It also designates an executor, an individual who will carry out your last wishes. After your death, a probate court gives the executor power to handle your estate (your assets, debts, and property).
Unless you own a lot of property or other assets, you probably just need a simple will, which you can write yourself. Sites like LegalZoom and RocketLawyer provide templates that make it easy to create your own will, but if you have specific wishes or a lot of assets—or just want help navigating tricky state tax laws—you’ll want to enlist the help of a lawyer. Either way, to make your will legally binding, you typically need two witnesses to sign the document. Experts also recommend getting it notarized. Legal site Nolo explains:
If you sign your will in a lawyer’s office, the lawyer will provide a notary public. If you’re arranging this party on your own, you can probably find a notary public at a bank, real estate office, or package-mailing service. It’s worth it to go to the extra trouble of getting a notarized self-proving affidavit, because it will simplify the process of getting your will admitted to probate after your death.
2. ASSIGN A POWER OF ATTORNEY FOR YOUR FINANCES.
Not only do you need an executor for your will, you also need to assign a power of attorney: the person who will manage your finances (and healthcare, but we'll get to that) when you’re unable to do so. This might be the same person you choose as executor of your will or someone else—but it should definitely be someone you trust.
There are different types of power of attorney, but most experts recommend a “durable” power of attorney, which allows this person to make decisions in your stead in the event that you become mentally unfit to advocate for yourself.
RocketLawyer can help you create your own power of attorney, but again, if you can afford it, a lawyer will do a more thorough job (the American Association of Individual Investors offers a few recommendations for finding a reputable attorney [PDF]).
3. WRITE A LIVING WILL.
A will designates what happens when you die, but a living will establishes your wishes for dealing with healthcare-related issues while you’re still alive.
“Most living wills provide specific directives about treatments that should or should not be undertaken if a patient is unable to express a preference for any reason,” says Anthony D. Criscuolo, CFP, Client Services Manager for Palisades Hudson Financial Group. “A highly specific living will can prevent disagreement over interpretation by your loved ones, or save them the burden of trying to determine what your preference would be, but also leaves less room for flexibility in unforeseen circumstances.”
Again, there are websites that provide templates for a living will, but Criscuolo says it’s best to work with a lawyer to create one. “Working with an attorney will be more costly, but it is generally well worth it ... you should have a competent attorney draft the documents to ensure they meet state law, express your intentions clearly, and are consistent with your other estate planning documents.”
“Topics you may wish to address in a living will include pain management options, the use of prolonged life support, your preferences regarding resuscitation, and your desires regarding organ donation, among others,” Criscuolo says. “While a do-not-resuscitate (DNR) does not require a living will, it is a good idea to mention it there if you have one. If you have been diagnosed with or are at risk for certain medical conditions, you may wish to address them directly. In outlining a living will, it can be beneficial to discuss your options with your primary care physician, who can answer questions and suggest scenarios you might not think of on your own.”
You should discuss the contents of both your will and living will with your family and update both documents regularly. “These updates may reflect changes in opinion, circumstances, or even available medical treatment. You should also be sure to update your living will if you move, as legal requirements can vary between states,” Criscuolo says.
4. ASSIGN A MEDICAL POWER OF ATTORNEY.
When you write your living will, you’ll also assign a medical power of attorney. This is the person who will make decisions if you’re not able to, Foisy explains.
Your medical power of attorney also monitors your mental and physical health, and is the person who will decide when it’s time for you to transition living arrangements and move into an eldercare home. Your medical power of attorney might be your child, a spouse, or your partner, but should be someone who feels comfortable speaking with doctors and medical professionals and will be able to abide by your wishes when the emotional stakes are at their highest.
5. STAY ACTIVE AND ENGAGED.
“The best way to ease the burden of caregiving for an older adult is to be physically active,” Foisy explains. “Healthcare is the highest cost associated with growing older.”
She adds that you don’t want to depend on your adult children financially either. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the average cost of an assisted living facility is $3293 per month and a nursing home costs $6235 per month. Medicare and Medicaid may cover some of these costs, if you qualify, but it’s important to start saving for your retirement now to prepare for this expense later.
It’s also important to stay active as you age and establish a strong support system in your community, Foisy says. “It may be better to become close to the people in their community. Get to know different service providers for older adults. Start making tough choices before you are forced to and don't know anything about the organizations that you will rely on for care.”