End-of-Life Planning: Preparing for Death

Preparing for death can be a difficult task. Making funeral or cremation arrangements in advance, whether someone else’s or your own, is only part of getting affairs in order before the end of life. There are many things to consider and choices to be made, and making them sooner rather than later—while heads are clear and feelings are manageable—protects your family from decisions that can be clouded by strong emotions or financial stress. We're here to help.

Checklist: Get your affairs in order

There's a lot of essential information your family will need in the days and weeks immediately after you pass. When you're doing end-of-life planning, here are a few things to get you started.

  • Create a contact list. Make a list of everyone who should be told about your death.
  • Get in touch with your lawyer. Be sure your will is up to date and your power of attorney and healthcare directives are current.
  • Write down important personal details. Start with the basics, like your legal name and birth date and place, and be sure to include bank account numbers and passwords.
  • Plan a funeral or cremation. Our funeral planning checklist can be helpful at the time of need, but having a detailed plan in place in advance provides peace of mind for loved ones.
  • Purchase cemetery property. A permanent memorial gives family and friends a place to gather and remember.

Create a contact list

Part of getting your affairs in order before death includes creating a list of people to contact after death occurs. Family members will most likely be listed first, followed by close friends and your employer, if you are still working. You can also include professional providers, such as doctors, lawyers, financial advisors, insurance agents, religious contacts and your funeral director. It may be helpful to designate one person on the list to contact everyone else and share funeral arrangements on social media or through other media outlets.

Consider legal and estate matters

In addition to funeral planning, there are legal and estate documents to arrange in planning for death. Talk with an attorney to draft or update crucial documents, such as:

  • Your will or trust. This document tells your family how you would like your assets divided. A designated executor oversees the execution of your wishes.
  • Power of attorney. This gives someone you trust the authority to make decisions on your behalf if you are unable to make them for yourself.
  • Advance healthcare directives. This tells your family and healthcare providers how you'd like to handle medical situations that may arise.

These three documents can be created or updated at the same time. Make sure you, your attorney, the executor of your will and your power of attorney have copies of the documents.

Document financial matters

In the weeks and months following a death, family members may have a hard time tracking down a person’s services and subscriptions that need to be paid for, transferred or canceled. Consider making a list of financial institutions, utilities and debtors to be contacted after you die. The executor of your estate will be responsible for paying your remaining debts, selling your property and distributing money or assets to the people named in the will. This is also the time to think about if you’d like to donate a portion of your estate to a charity or organization you feel passionate about.

Here are some items to include on this list:

  • Bank accounts, such as checking and savings, and safe deposit boxes
  • Utilities, such as phone, cable, electric, gas and water
  • Financial institutions that hold your car note, mortgage or other loans
  • Investment institutions that hold your 401(k) or other retirement or investment accounts

In addition to paying debtors, your executor will also be responsible for checking into death benefits such as life insurance, veterans benefits, Medicare/Medicaid, and home or auto insurance policies that will be paid out after you die.

End-of-life costs

End-of-life costs take many by surprise. Bills for doctor’s visits, hospital stays, home care and long-term care facilities add up. Funeral or cremation and burial expenses catch many families off guard, adding to the stress of an already very stressful time.

It’s difficult to estimate end-of-life costs, which can vary greatly person to person. The National Bureau of Economic Research has estimated healthcare costs in the tens of thousands for some. According to the National Funeral Directors Association, the national median cost of a traditional funeral with a viewing in 2021 was $7,848. Cemetery burial adds to that expense.

Medicare covers some of the medical expenses, but many families find themselves with significant out-of-pocket expenses, especially if a loved one doesn’t have health insurance that covers the gap. Long-term care insurance, life insurance and final expense insurance can help ease some of the financial burden. A detailed prepaid funeral plan can entirely relieve a family from funeral expenses at the time of need.

Plan ahead for a funeral or cremation

Planning a funeral or cremation ahead of time means your loved ones don't have to guess what you wanted—a metal casket over a wooden one, an organist or a recorded version of your favorite hymn, or a traditional burial instead of cremation memorialization. Our caring providers take the time to walk you through the process of pre-planning a funeral or memorial exactly how you envision it.

Benefits to funeral planning ahead of time include recording your wishes, taking time to review Medicare and veterans burial benefits, and working with a funeral professional in a relaxed environment. It also helps you figure end-of-life costs.

By planning in advance, you have a greater understanding of funeral and cemetery pricing and the ability to lock in today's costs, alleviating financial stress on your family.

What to consider when planning a memorial service

The most memorable memorial services are planned with attention to detail and include personal touches that reflect the individuals they represent. When planning ahead for a funeral, consider the opportunities for self-expression and personalization. The following checklist can help make the service you plan one that truly captures the essence of your life.

  • Venue. From funeral homes to churches, restaurants to parks, venue options are many.
  • Music. Certain songs or a beloved band can add a lot of meaning to a service.
  • Readings. Consider a eulogy, scriptures, special stories or poems to be read by the officiant or friends and family.
  • Mementos. A memento or keepsake reminds guests of your personality and passions.
  • Food. It's traditional for friends and family to gather over a meal after a funeral or memorial service.
  • Flowers. From a casket spray to table bouquets and arrangements of your favorite flowers, florals can be customized.

Bronze winged angel statue holding a string of pearls.

Make cemetery arrangements

When thinking about how to prepare for death, it’s also important to consider cemetery arrangements. Choosing a burial plot, cremation memorial or mausoleum crypt in advance is an essential step in end-of-life planning. It creates a legacy and secures a place for future generations to visit, reflect and remember.

Funeral and cemetery planning resources

Dignity Memorial® professionals can help you celebrate life like no other. Our compassionate experts will walk you through the process of pre-planning a funeral and answer important questions, so you'll have all the information needed to make educated decisions. We're here to help you make sure your final wishes are complete and will be carried out just as you envisioned.

Having plans in order means gaining peace of mind. Contact us to get your free Personal Planning Guide.