The worst has happened, and your loved one has entered hospice care. While much of your time will be spent caring for your loved one, now is also the time to have some necessary discussions, if you haven’t already. While it may not seem like the “right” time, now may be your only chance to learn exactly what your loved one wants regarding their final wishes. To give you a place to start and hopefully make the process as seamless as possible, use the checklist below to help you gather everything that’s needed to get your loved one’s affairs in order.

Middle-aged woman sitting at table looking at documents

Gather All Important Documents

The information and documents listed below will apply to most families. However, there may be additional documents that are important to you and your family. Think through any additional documentation that would be helpful and include it. The list below is an excellent starting place and covers the vast majority of what you will need to include.

  • Full legal name
  • Social Security number/card
  • Legal residence
  • Date and place of birth
  • Names and addresses of spouse and children
  • Location of birth and death certificates and certificates of marriage, divorce, citizenship, and adoption (whichever are applicable)
  • Mother’s maiden name
  • Employers and dates of employment
  • Education and military records (including DD-214 or equivalent)
  • Names and phone numbers of religious contacts (if applicable)
  • Names and phone numbers of close friends, relatives, doctors, lawyers, and financial advisors
  • Medications taken regularly (keep this updated!)
  • Location of living will, legal will, power of attorney, and other legal documents
  • Sources of income and assets – pension from your employer, IRAs, 401(k)s, interest, royalties, etc.
  • Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid information
  • Insurance information (life, health, long-term care, home, etc.) with policy numbers, beneficiaries, agents’ names, and phone numbers
  • Copy of most recent income tax return
  • Location of most up-to-date will with an original signature
  • Liabilities, including property tax
  • Mortgages and debts
  • Location of original deed of trust for home
  • Car title and registration
  • Credit and debit card names and numbers
  • Location of safe deposit box and key
  • Passwords and pins for email, phone, social media accounts, digital financial assets, subscriptions, etc.
  • Funeral preferences/wishes

Woman in pink sweater sitting at table, signing a legal will

Consider Your Loved One’s Estate Planning Needs

Estate planning is about ensuring that your loved one’s wishes are carried out regarding their estate. While most of us don’t have a literal estate with a grand manor and a stable full of horses, we do all have an “estate.” In legal terms, an estate consists of everything a person owns – car, home, other real estate, bank accounts, investment accounts, 401(k)s, insurance policies, furniture, digital accounts, personal possessions, and even pets.

By determining what your loved one’s wishes are, who will receive what and when, and who is responsible for carrying out any final wishes, you participate in estate planning. A few important questions to consider are:

1. Does your loved one have a legal will?

In essence, writing a legal will is one of the best things your loved one can do for your family. To reduce the risk of misunderstandings, heartache, and the possible headache of taking the estate through probate court, it’s best to clearly outline who gets what and when. In fact, state law determines the distribution of a person’s property and assets if there is no legal will. So, if there’s no legal will, you might ask your loved one if they are willing to write or dictate one. If they are, first contact a lawyer about next steps.

2. If there is a legal will, has your loved one appointed an executor? And does the chosen executor have access to and know where to find all important documents?

Above all, the executor should be someone trustworthy. They will carry out the wishes outlined in your loved one’s legal will to the letter.

3. Has your loved one named their beneficiaries?

Beneficiaries are the people or organizations that will receive any assets and/or property after death. In general, it is a good practice to double-check who the beneficiaries are on a legal will and on any life insurance policies to ensure that everything still reflects your loved one’s wishes.

Older man sitting at computer, writing notes in notebook

4. Does your loved one want or need a trust?

If you are unfamiliar with trusts, they are similar to a will. Both a will and a trust are meant to spell out someone’s wishes regarding assets and property. The main difference between the two is that a will is effective only after the person dies and then must be probated (carried out) by the court system and the chosen executor. On the other hand, in the case of a trust, there is no need to go through the court system – an appointed successor trustee (the executor, if you will) will carry out the person’s wishes after death as they are written in the trust.

Additionally, with a trust, the successor trustee can manage any financial, healthcare, or legal affairs if your loved one becomes incapacitated. Talk with an estate lawyer to see if this option is right for your family. Typically, a trust is helpful if you have a large number of assets and property.

5. Have you considered your loved one’s digital estate?

Anyone who uses an email account or a networking website has a digital estate. It’s just as important to determine the future of your loved one’s digital estate as their physical estate. For suggestions on how to manage digital estate assets, please click here.

6. Does your loved one have any dependents (including pets)? Have they made their wishes clear regarding the well-being of any dependents?

Most people know that they should indicate who will care for their dependents once they are gone. However, pets are also an important part of the family, and while we love them dearly, sometimes we overlook them in the estate planning process. To that end, make sure to include any veterinary documentation in your loved one’s important paperwork and outline who should take over the care of any beloved animals.

Lit remembrance candles

Funeral Planning

While it may be difficult to ask your loved one about funeral planning, it should be discussed at some point. If nothing else, ask a few simple questions about their preferences so that you know how they want their life honored and remembered when the time comes.

For example, do they prefer burial or cremation? With burial, do they have a preference on where they are buried? With cremation, would they like their ashes scattered, placed in a columbarium, or something else? What are some of their most favorite memories or accomplishments they are proud of that can be mentioned in a eulogy? If they are a veteran, do they want any military honors included? Getting answers to these kinds of questions will help you create a service that is meaningful and personalized, giving you peace of mind that you’ve honored their life the way they wanted.

For additional information, click on the links below:

Keep It Current

Hospice care can be a long road, so it’s important to keep any documentation you gather up to date and current. At the beginning, it’s quite an undertaking to gather all of the necessary information. But, once it’s together, keeping everything updated is much simpler.

While the conversations may not be easy, they can be good, and they will give you a clear sense of what your loved one wants regarding their earthly goods and their final send-off.

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