How to Make End of Life Plans: A Checklist for Families

Picture this: a family huddled around the bed of a dying loved one in the hospital emergency room, ICU or hospice, trying to parse out what their parent wanted. “What do we do if they didn’t sign a medical power of attorney?” “How do they want to be buried?” “What do we do with mom or dad’s belongings and assets?” Medical professionals have a term for these moments of confusion – they call it “the hallway huddle.” It’s the scrambling efforts of a family who want to honour the wishes of their unresponsive parent, but can’t figure out how.

Death is a natural and important part of life. Granted, it isn’t one we’re always comfortable talking about, but it is a significant and inevitable rite of passage. And just like other consequential rites of passage – getting married, having kids, buying a first home – it requires proactivity, planning and plenty of open-minded discussions.

To prepare end-of-life plans, get the family together and make a checklist. What do you need to do to avoid the “hallway huddle”? How can you make the settlement of your loved one’s estate as easy as possible?

NEATSPACES is committed to ensuring that you or your loved one’s end-of-life is as smooth, stress-free and straightforward as possible. That’s why, in this article, we’re looking at a few critical boxes you should tick when making end-of-life plans – from creating a will to hiring professional estate services to help organize, declutter and disperse belongings.

Create a Will

Essentially, your will is the legal document outlining how you want your estate divided when you pass away. It is vital to a smooth estate settlement process. It’s always a good idea to seek legal counsel when writing a will, to ensure your documents are properly prepared and witnessed and to ensure your intentions for beneficiaries are crystal clear.

If strict rules around the format, witnesses, or life circumstances (a marriage for example) are not followed, your will can be deemed invalid. Dying intestate (without a will,) means that your next of kin will have to apply to the government to be a trustee or the government disperses your estate with a prescribed formula that may not be in keeping with your wishes. It can be a lengthy, expensive and stressful process. Similarly, your will should be reviewed regularly to ensure that it reflects the most recent estate law and that life events have not altered the validity or intentions in your will.

Wills can be challenged if survivors can prove that the person did not have the legal capacity to write a will on the date it was executed.  Ensure you or your loved one contemplates and executes a will well before the capacity to do so can be challenged.

professional estate clearing services

The first paragraph will identify you stating that this is your last will and testament, and will include your name and address. Next, you’ll name an executor or multiple executors (more on that in a moment,) give that executor the power to pay your debts and include a residual clause outlining how the rest of your assets should be divided.

If you, or your loved one, are making end-of-life plans but have not yet written a will, make that the first order of business.

Choose an Executor

Typically, you choose an executor (or estate trustee, estate representative, etc.) from among your adult children, lawyer, accountant, close friends, spouse and other trusted advisors. It can be one person, or you can name co-executors that will work together. Regardless of whom you choose, the executor’s chief role is to carry out the wishes you laid out in your will and to protect, manage and administer your estate. The more planning that is done upfront, the easier the settlement of the estate is.

When choosing an executor, ensure they satisfy some critical criteria. You want your executor to be responsible and reliable – a steady hand in a potentially tumultuous time. You want them to act impartially but sympathetically when dealing with your beneficiaries. An executor will have to act immediately to locate the will, continue the payment of bills, ensure the deceased’s home is secure and maintained and other assets are preserved. They will have to file tax returns, close bank accounts, cancel credit cards, subscriptions, settle life insurance policies and more.

Hire a trustworthy CEA

Even for a responsible, reliable individual, the role of executor can be overwhelming. Changing family dynamics (including multiple marriages,) scrutiny from “armchair executors,” and the increasingly complex world of estate assets and liabilities can make the job difficult. That’s where a CEA comes in. A CEA – Certified Executor Advisor – is a professional that helps you organize paperwork, provide a checklist of what needs to be attended to in the short term and longer term, and helps with the day to day care of the home and other things on the to-do list, the cancellation of subscriptions or transfer of the names on utilities as examples .

At NEATSPACES, we offer professional, sympathetic and knowledgeable CEA services. We’ll help you help your executor, going the extra mile to make sure that your end-of-life wishes are carried out exactly as you intended.

If you are the family of someone making end-of-life plans, raise the subject of hiring a CEA.

Manage Estate Organization with Professional Estate Services

We understand that end-of-life planning and clearing out the estate of a loved one can be an emotional processes, which is why NEATSPACES is committed to providing patient and compassionate estate organization services in Toronto,  Burlington and the surrounding areas. NEATSPACES helps you manage your estate settlements by decluttering, cleaning and clearing a home so it can be listed for sale.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the amount of furniture, bric-a-brac, sentimental items and heirlooms in your or your loved one’s home. We’ll work with you to develop a game plan for what to keep and what can be sold, auctioned, donated or disposed of. We even offer packing and move management services to make this transitional period as easy on you as possible. We can ship to family or beneficiaries across most of Canada and the US, and we can be the “boots on the ground” for family and executors who live out of province.

Meet with NEATSPACES for a complimentary, in-home consultation, and together we’ll work out how best to achieve your objectives. If you’re moving your loved one in preparation for end-of-life plans, you can also feel free to contact us to get help downsizing a loved one’s home.

Document End-of-Life Wishes

There are various wishes and requests that a will cannot cover, but that are nevertheless important to you and your family. These include specifications for end-of-life care, burial/cremation preferences, organ donation and even questions like “what to do with my Facebook account.”

Convene with family and loved ones to discuss and document the items that matter. If something matters to you or a loved one anticipating death, no matter how small it may seem, it should be recorded, respected and honoured if possible.  

Legacy Planning: Holding a Funeral

When a loved one passes away, you want to honour their legacy and remember them among friends, family and well-wishers.

Traditionally, planning a funeral begins by choosing a method of disposition (burial, cremation, etc.,) contacting a funeral service provider and selecting an officiant to lead the service. But you have to ask yourself: is that how your loved one would want to be remembered?

Maybe they detailed specific requests in their end-of-life wishes, or perhaps it’s up to you to decide how best to celebrate them. A funeral should represent the unique life it’s honouring, so you can opt for a traditional funeral or use your best judgment.

End-of-life planning isn’t always easy to think about, document or discuss, but you’ll be glad you did it. It’s far better to be proactive, prepared and orderly than to leave behind a current of confusion. If you are looking for a Certified Executor Advisor or professional estate organization services, contact us for more information – we’re always happy to help in these tough transitional times.

For downsizing, moving and organizing services in the Greater Toronto Area contact us today!