An End of Life Checklist To Leave The Legacy You Want

We spend our entire life accumulating wealth. But as we know and as grim or morbid as it may sound, we all have to die one day, leaving our worldly possessions behind. While death isn’t a subject we care to discuss, it’s a discussion that needs to be had – especially if we have assets and an estate that need to be divvied up among children or other beneficiaries.

Jaime Cowper, president of Unity Financial Advisors ( believes “too many people don’t do the proper planning to make sure that any wealth they’ve accumulated over the years end up where they want it to.”

This lack of preparation often creates headaches and tension among surviving loved ones.

Cowper agrees and adds, “Of course, that’s not going to cause any problems for the deceased because they’ll be gone. Those left behind, though, could end up feuding over property, paying more taxes than necessary, or just becoming stressed as they try to put together the puzzle pieces of your estate.”

It’s an unhealthy prospect for the surviving beneficiaries and perhaps a dishonorable or undignified legacy for the deceased’s hard work.

So, how do you want your life’s hard work to go on without you? The only way your legacy can live on the way that you intend is to make your wishes known.

And Cowper says just mentioning it over coffee isn’t enough. “You do not want to leave your heirs guessing what you would want.”

He says the following steps, tips and actions will remove any doubt and diminish conflicts that often arise in the absence of the deceased.

• Prepare A will. Whether you have assets or not, write up a will. Cowper says, “It’s especially important to have a will if you have minor children because you can use the will to name a guardian for them.”

• Put in place healthcare documents, such as a living will, a power of attorney agreement and a durable power of attorney agreement for healthcare.

Putting these documents in place is especially important as you just never know how you will go – whether sudden, in old age and what your physical and mental state will be as you near the end of life. Cowper says, “the right documents can spell out your wishes for health care and you can also name someone to make the decisions for you if it comes to that.”

• Financial documents. It is important to make your financial wishes known by appointing someone to take care of business and make decisions on your behalf in case you become incapacitated. Cowper says a joint ownership, durable power of attorney, and living trusts are important documents to consider.

• Beneficiary forms. When someone dies there are instances where their heirs can get their money right away without delays caused by probate. And at others when you name a beneficiary for bank accounts and retirement plans, they automatically become “payable on death” to your beneficiaries. Cowper says it’s important to make such a distinction so that beneficiaries can get the money right away without probate—a legal/court process to prove the validity of a will.

Doing all of this and not disclosing it to heirs is pointless right? 

“When you’ve done all this planning, you don’t want to leave your heirs searching through closets, attics and dresser drawers in search of your important papers,” Cowper says. “You won’t be there to guide them, so someone should know exactly where to look.”

Well, unless you believe that your guardian angel or their ghost will physically lead them to it. Kidding J