Last Will and Testament Document Ready to Sign. Last Will Document and Fountain Pen Closeup Photo.

It’s a topic few of us want to think about, let alone prepare for – death. However, it’s crucial to manage a few things before you die. Here are 10 vital things to do in order to make the burden on your family as light as possible.

  1. Write your will. A will is essentially a document that says who gets what when you die. After death, you will likely have left behind assets, including money, homes, cars, etc. And your will designates who receives those assets. If you don’t create a will, it could lead to serious family disputes over who thinks they are entitled to those assets. If you don’t have a will, the state gets involved and distributes the assets based on its own laws. Then, after you write it, make sure it stays updated. “Even if you don’t have a lot include little things like who should family photos go to and things like big fancy hanging mirrors. My aunts are still fighting over a mirror my grandmother had when she passed 25 years ago,” said Cheritta Smith.
  2. Write a living will. Unfortunately, medical conditions can happen where you may become incapacitated or incapable of expressing your desires regarding medical treatment. A living will lets your family know what you prefer should you be put on life support. It’s important to note that a living will is different from a DNR (do not resuscitate). A DNR is a medical document that must be signed by your doctor; a living will is a legal document and requires no physician approval. “Knowing this made it so much easier to let my grandma go in peace,” said Candy McQueen. “No second guessing if I made the right decision because she made the decision for herself. I have asked all my family members the same question because tragedies can happen in a blink of an eye.”
  3. Put together an assets/debts list.It’s important to go the things you own (stocks, 401ks, IRAs, etc) and list the money you owe to help figure out how much you’re actually worth. Any type of loan, including credit cards, mortgages, auto loans, etc. should be considered when figuring out your debts. 
  4. Select a power of attorney. The power of attorney is essentially the decision maker for a person who has become incapable of making serious decisions. It is common for old people to make someone their power of attorney when their memory starts to fade or they can’t think as sharply as they used to. The power of attorney then oversees major decisions involving that person’s finances and legal matters. But whomever appoints someone to be their power of attorney can also revoke it, provided they still have a capable mind.
  5. Designate a beneficiary.The beneficiaries are those who receive a percentage of your estate when you die. You may have one or more beneficiary for your estate, which is fine. But you need to designate who gets a piece of your estate when you pass. This keeps things simple when you pass and prevents others from coming forward and claiming they should get part of your estate (even if it’s a $3 thousand dollar policy). You must give names and a percentage when choosing your beneficiaries. It’s important to note that your will cannot override beneficiaries. That’s why you must always make sure your decisions are up to date and align with one another. “I had an employee who forgot to remove his ex-wife from ten years ago from his beneficiary list. His current wife wasn’t listed,” said HR director Crystal Brown-Tatum .
  6. Assign a ‘transfer of death’ designation.When you die, your accounts are probated (distributed through a legal process). But if you assign a TOD (transfer of death), then upon your death, your accounts will be immediately transferred to your beneficiaries and won’t need to be involved in the probate. You’ll need to provide an original death certificate of the account holder, but that should be all you need to transfer the account. It makes things much easier than having to go through the legal process of distribution.Add names to your bank account that way. If you die and don’t have anyone on the account your loved ones have problems withdrawing money. 
  7. Write it down.Have EVERYTHING written down – bills, account numbers, computer and account passwords, social security numbers. It makes it easy for your family to get your affairs in order.  
  8. Store items in a safe place. Make sure you have your social security card and birth certificate with your life insurance policies. Once you’re dead your family will be unable to get it and it may be necessary if your death certificate has incorrect information. If you are former military make sure there is a copy of your discharge notice. This will aid in obtaining burial in veterans cemetery.
  9. Designate a confidante.Tell someone where everything is located. From insurance policies to furs to your secret stash of cash to your clothes at the dry cleaners. “I just saw this husband have to cremate his wife because she never told him where her policies were,” said Candy McQueen. 
  10. Don’t be afraid to plan your funeral. It’s morbid and no one likes doing it, but write down your wishes on whether you want a funeral ( a service before the body is buried or cremated); amemorial service (when you have a service after the body has been buried or cremated); or  graveside service (just like a funeral only it takes place on the gravesite). “My mother even had what songs she wanted sung at her funeral and she had the program done. That was a burden lifted off us that I will be eternally grateful for,” said Jonathan Davis. 


Lessons learned

We asked readers what are some lessons they’ve learned when it comes to burying their loved ones and the advice they’d give to help prepare for death. 

“Start cleaning up.There is nothing like having to go through all of their stuff. If you have mail that’s not important don’t let it collect space. Get rid of it. Having to sort through your loved ones belongings is emotionally draining and you feel guilty throwing away anything of theirs so a good amount of people end up hoarding out of guilt.” – Nakecia Bowers

Know the costs.Understand the expenses associated with transporting a body to a different state. It sounds good that you may want to be buried where you were raised, but do you know how much that will cost your family?” – Tamika McRae 

“If you know your loved one is passing or if you know you’re passing, take lots of pictures. Record video of your favorite things. Leave messages. Take pictures together. Maybe open an email account for the ones you leave behind with stories, messages or personal pictures.” – Nicole Bird Lester 

“If you are in a Greek organization or other organization with certain rituals, pins, clothing, etc that you do not want donated, make sure you have written down either a designated person to receive these items or the local chapter. Also, if you have a secret collection of some ‘thangs’ you don’t want anybody to stumble upon after you are gone, make sure you tell that one really good friend to look under the 3rd rock on the side of the house to find that key to the box under the 4th tile in the guest bathroom. You don’t want that stuff to end up ‘out there in the world!’ Also, let people know what each key on a keyring is for.” – Cynthia F. Gibbs

“Don’t buy everything the funeral home offers in the emotional moment of planning the funeral (clocks and key chains with your loved one’s face on it, extra videos, frills for the coffin, etc) It can eat up your money with trinkets you probably don’t need.” – Lewis Washington


Hear what funeral directors think you should know before you die.