“Every man’s life ends the same way. It is only the details of how he lived and how he died that distinguish one man from another.” 

―Ernest Hemingway

It does ring true… how we live and how we die are the things that distinguish us from one another.   Our end of life experience can either be a horrible one or a healing one.  After all, it is in the very last breath where our most revealing moments can unfold.

In this article, we’re going to dive into the left brain and talk about what you physically need to do to plan or prepare for death when you, or a loved one, is dying.  In the article, End of Life Planning, Living to the End, we’re going to dive into the right brain and talk about what it means to be living your life fully.[1]  It is our intention to offer you the tools you need to help set the stage for your final departure.  Consider this article as a bit of “estate-planning basics” for your biggest asset – YOU, not your financial one.

You want the best life possible, and you want to be as lovingly caring for your loved ones at the end of your life.  If this is so, you want to make sure that your family and friends have a blueprint of what you would want, in case you are not able to take care of yourself.  There are several ways to approach this aspect.

Advance Medical/Healthcare Directives

One of the first things to do is create an Advance Medical/Health Care Directive to cover the physical aspect of your existence.  To keep it simple, we refer to it as an Advance Medical Directive in this article.

What is an Advance Medical Directive?

Every state is different, but in general, an Advance Medical Directive is a legal document that designates someone you trust to be in charge of your medical decisions, with instructions for how you want to be taken care of, what treatments you would want until your moment of death, if you are not able to make decisions for yourself, due to illness or incapacity.[2]

An Advance Medical Directive also serves as a “living will” with a health care declaration and a power of attorney or health care proxy for health care. This is not as a power of attorney over any legal or financial matters concerning your estate, only for your health.  It allows your health advocate to talk to your doctors or facilities on your behalf.  Choosing someone you trust to represent what you truly want is a key factor here.  For a financial power of attorney, consult with an Estate Attorney.  You can download an Advance Medical Directive for your state at www.compassionandchoices.org.

Another example of an Advance Medical Directive is the Five Wishes, which also acts as a living will, and talks about your personal, emotional and spiritual needs, along with your medical wishes.  It lets you choose the person you want to make health care decisions for you if you are not able to make them for yourself.  This can be found at www.agingwithdignity.org.

Alternative Directives

Some experts at the end of life field have taken the Advance Medical Directive to another level.  Olivia Bareham, founder of Sacred Crossings Home Funeral Home, created a document called, an Advance Death Care Directive, outlining your final wishes concerning how you would want your body to be taken care of after you die, with places to fill out for your personal information, legal documents you have in place, and any medical information important to know, along with a place to write your eulogy.   This document enables your death care agent to be guided through the process of your funeral and final disposition.  It’s a document allowing the space for you to express your desires of what kind of funeral service you would like.  If you want a Home Funeral service, make sure your agent knows what that entails, and with whom he may need to collaborate.

It is also important to know that if you do not assign a health care or death care agent, your next of kin will be the person legally responsible for making health care decisions, disposition arrangements, signing legal documents and completing the death certificate.[3]  In almost every country in the world, it is the next of kin that has the legal right to care for a deceased loved one that reflects their family’s cultural and religious traditions. This is also true in the United States, however, in nine states (Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Michigan, Nebraska, New Jersey and New York) this right has been given to the funeral industry, allowing only licensed funeral directors to care for the deceased.  You can refer to the Funeral Consumers Alliance at www.funerals.org for more information on your state’s legal requirements.

And, speaking of next of kin, there is a legal order of who bears the right to control disposition.  You can refer to the Sacred Crossings Advanced Death Directive for the order on the Sacred Crossing’s website at www.sacredcrossings.com.

Amy Pickard, founder of Good To Go Parties, gathers people together for wine and cheese to complete their Advance Death Care Directive wishes, including details of child-care and pet-care instructions, things we don’t often think about, while enjoying a glass of wine, and each other’s company, taking the seriousness out of the process as a community experience. You can create your own gathering to express your Advance Death Care Directive wishes to your close ones at https://www.goodtogopeace.org./

There are increasing documents for Advance Death Care that are sprouting up.  Stacey Canfield, the author of The Soul Sitter’s Handbook, photographer, and humanitarian, also created The Passage Plan, a comprehensive blueprint to equip and comfort your loved ones through your own passing, as a way of helping you to plan what you want to support you physically, emotionally and spiritually.  This document includes a place to complete a brief description of what she calls, your TRIBES, including your family, friends, colleagues, places of worship or cultural community, organizations or networking groups, recreational, sports or hobby groups, health event management website, social media, instructions and assignments for your Soul Sitters.  The Passage Plan also serves as a healing tool enabling you to communicate your final words, honoring the core of who you are, and what legacy you want to leave behind, along with a sacred space of just being.  You can find it on the Soul Sitters website at http://www.soulsitters.com/passage-plan.

Traditional Funeral Homes are another resource for completing and spelling out what you would want when you die.  They offer various packets to complete, containing your general information, estate information, financial information, social security information, veteran’s benefits, medical history, funeral service desires, cemetery memorialization, family members & relatives who need to be notified, legacy information and a family’s check sheet.

Preplanning your funeral, whether it’s a home funeral or traditional funeral has many benefits.  The benefit is to give you and your family peace of mind because all they need to do is follow your directives. It’s a real way of supporting your family members through a time of great sadness, at a time when they won’t feel at their optimum energy and strength to handle painful details.  Having a plan reduces weight/pressure/burden placed upon your loved ones when you die.

Make sure you give copies of your DNR or Advance Medical Directive to your doctor(s) and even a few family members or friends.  If you need to go to the hospital, then take the documents with you when you are admitted. If you are a health advocate for someone you love, this is an important point to remember.

Jump Start Estate Planning Basics Checklist

  • Complete your Advance Medical Directive and Advance Death Care Directive.  This protects you if you become unable to make medical decisions for yourself.
    • Make sure you receive signed and notarized copies (can also have signatures of a witness not deemed a health agent) of both your completed Advance Medical Director and Advance Death Care Directive.
    • Make additional copies of both these documents and give them to two other trusted people.
  • Seek the advice of an experienced legal counsel/estate attorney.
  • Create your Last Will and Testament.  Will includes who you want to inherit your property, naming a guardian to care for your young children, if something happened to you and your spouse.  Any will generally have to be probated under a state court’s direction without a Living Trust.
  • Create/Update your Living Trust.  If you have a trust, your survivors won’t have to go through probate court, which is a time-consuming and expensive process.
    • Include all financial information, such as disbursement or conservation of assets, changing property deeds and titles, disposition of bank accounts, stocks, bonds, business assets, insurance policies, loans, retirement funds, credit cards, social security benefits, etc.
    • Know where your Living Trust and Last Will and Testament are filed, along with your financial information and let others know.

What to Do When a Loved One Dies

Immediately After

  • If your loved one is at home and he or she has a DNR (Do-Not-Resuscitate document), and your loved one is on hospice, call the hospice nurse, not 911.  The Hospice nurse/doctor will sign off on the death certificate.
  • If your loved one is at home without hospice, you must call 911 and have in hand the DNR.  If you don’t the paramedics will start emergency procedures to save his/her life and will take him/her to the emergency room for a doctor to make the declaration of death. (Just know when you call 911, the police may come and investigate the death.  That is the LAST thing you want to deal with.  It’s traumatic and difficult enough that your loved one has died, but to have the police come and ask you questions you don’t want to answer is not the ideal situation.  Use hospice when at all possible!!!)
  • Call his or her doctor to notify them of the death.
  • If your loved one is in the hospital, then the doctor on hand will sign the death certificate.

Creating a Home Funeral/Funeral/Celebration of Life Service

  • If you are having a Home Funeral for your loved one, call someone who is experienced.  Sacred Crossings offers Home Funeral Guides that will escort you through the entire 3-day process.  It truly is a beautiful way to honor your loved one.  For 3 days family and friends are able to visit, sit vigil with their spirit, decorate their casket, and just “be” with them.  Your guide will lead the way, no need to know anything.
  • Make sure you have either the place of burial or cremation in order.
  • Find out if they had a prepaid plan (Consider getting one – really, as this will save your loved ones so much heartache)!
  • If the person is/was a veteran, find out their benefits.  (I found out that my dad was entitled to an honor guard from the Navy at my dad’s funeral.  It was wonderful. We also had another military honor from the Patriot Guard Motorcycle Brigade, escorting him from the mortuary to the cemetery.  It was awesome!  I know my dad was happy to be honored in that way, even if he was not there to “see” it.)
  • Call the mortuary/crematorium to make the final arrangements and arrange for them to pick up the body.
  • Call close family and friends to notify them (or anyone you need to support YOU).  Then, if it becomes too much for you, delegate this task to someone else.
  • Make sure to handle the care of their children or pets, when needed.
  • Make sure their house is taken care of, i.e.: watering the plants, picking up the mail, etc., especially if you are not staying there.
  • Ask the mortuary or crematorium to order the Certified Death Certificates.  Make sure you have at least 10 Certified copies, as you will need them for financial institutions, government agencies, bill holders, and other situations.  There is usually a charge of $15.00 a copy, but you need them because many institutions require and accept only a Certified copy.

A Few Days/Weeks Later

  • If there was a Trust, and you are the successor trustee, review the Trust with the Estate Attorney, or make sure this is done.
  • If there was no Trust and no Will, their estate will be governed by state law (differs from state to state) and will go into probate (taken over by the state).  Their bank accounts may be frozen, so make sure all affairs are in order not to cause hardship to anyone.
  • Don’t forget to contact the mortgage companies and other loan providers, if necessary.  Any outstanding debts may need to be paid off by the assets or estate.
  • If you are the designated successor trustee or power of attorney, there are some legal issues you need to handle, so when you get the death certificates, call the credit card companies and all financial institutions to let them know your loved one has died, including the credit bureaus, i.e.: Experian, Equifax, and Trans Union, to prevent identity theft after their passing.  Also, make sure you get a copy of their credit report.
  • Contact any other service providers, including cable TV, internet, telephone, utilities, like water, electric & gas, and gardeners, so the home can be properly maintained, as well as medical institutions, etc.  (You also might need to show them a copy of the testamentary, which shows you as having the right to handle your loved one’s financial affairs.)
  • Contact their bank/financial institutions.  You may need to open a new bank account, under the Trust’s name, and you, as successor trustee, need to review all accounts and safety deposit boxes.
  • If there is a life insurance policy, make sure you get the claim forms.
  • You also may need to call the Social Security department (800-772-1213 or go to www.socialsecurity.gov) or any other agencies they were receiving benefits from to stop payments or receive survivor benefits (Veterans Affairs: 800-827-1000: www.va.gov).
  • Contact the accountant, legal advisors or any other professionals he or she was dealing with.
  • And, make sure you notify the post office to stop or forward mail, as well as the utility companies to stop or change services.

Do you see why it’s so important to document all of the information and keep it in one place?  You don’t want anyone scavenging around to find the necessary documents in a time like this.  You need to not only know the location of the will, birth certificates, marriage and divorce certificates, Social Security information, life insurance policies, financial documents and keys to safe deposit boxes or home safes, but you need to let your loved ones know too.

Whether you are the one preparing for your own death or you are helping someone else prepare for his or hers, it is crucial to have some kind of plan in place.  Use your creativity.  Dive in to see what you really want your end of life to be like.  It’s up to you.


So, we know we are all going to die one day.  That is a given.  We don’t know when and we don’t know how or even where, but that one fateful day will come when our spirit will outgrow our body and the body will break down and the spirit will fly free.  It’s how we are leaving something behind that is important- the pre-paid funeral, the Directives and the Plan mentioned here are in themselves the last great loving gifts you can give.

We can leave everything in chaos with files everywhere, with no documents organized or even done, and just a big mess for someone else to clean up.  It’s possible to not have an Advanced Medical Directive and leave it up to someone else entirely for our care and treatments, and face the possibility of someone keeping us alive on a life support system that we absolutely would not want, OR we can take charge of our own destiny, fill out an Advance Medical Directive, an Advance Death Care Directive and have a feeling of relief, knowing that we did our part in taking care of ourselves the best that we could, not relying upon anyone else to pick up the messy pieces we leave behind.

Tying up loose ends, having an Advance Medical Directive (and all of those other documents we spoke about) in place protects those we love the most.  The more we do now, the easier it will be on our loved ones we leave behind.

It’s like washing our own dishes.  We don’t just leave our dishes on the table for someone else to clean up.  We wash our own dishes, take our own showers, and keep ourselves as independent as possible, for as long as possible.  But, there may come a day, when we are not able to care for ourselves in the way that we have done in the past.  There may come a day when we are too ill, too weak, too incapacitated to do ANYTHING, but live out the rest of our lives with as much dignity, honor, and regard as possible.

Let’s protect our future generations by having the instruments in place that we need.  We know death is inevitable.  Let’s be kind and respectful by making sure we take care of our business, and that business is planning our life, our health and our death.  Do it today.  There is nothing like the present to prepare for what’s to come tomorrow.

It’s your life.  Enjoy the journey.  And, remember to bring love into everything you do.

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[1] Link to article

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Advance_healthcare_directive

[3] http://info.legalzoom.com/probate-laws-next-kin-22269.html