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5 Important Documents to Have in Place Before You Die

by | Jul 19, 2017 | For Families

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It may be difficult to come to terms with the fact that you’ll die someday, but death is inevitable.

That’s why it’s important to prepare necessary documents so your family doesn’t end up in a stressful and powerless situation. By designating powers of attorney and heirs, you decide who makes your medical decisions and who receives your belongings.

Let’s go over the legal documents you should have in place before you die so that you remain in control.

Healthcare Power of Attorney

A healthcare power of attorney (POA) is a document appointing someone to make your medical decisions if you’re unable to. This can apply to a variety of situations, such as if you become terminally ill or if you’re temporarily unconscious. It’s important to choose someone you trust, as they’re acting on your behalf for your medical decisions.

There also are several other types of POAs that you can choose to appoint someone as. For a POA to be valid, everyone must sign the document. Depending on your state’s laws, you also may need two or three witnesses to sign as well.


A will is a document stating your heirs, or who will receive your belongings and other assets when you die.

There are a few important steps to follow when writing your will. It’s a good idea to consult an estate attorney when writing your will and determining your assets.

  1. Make sure the document is clearly identified as your will and include your name, social security number, birth date, and other important personal information. Also, confirm that you’re 18 years of age or older and are of sound mind when writing your will.
  2. Choose an executor, which is the person who will carry out your will when you pass away. Make sure they’re willing to have this position and choose an alternate executor in case the first person is unable to fulfill their duties.
  3. Choose your heirs and make sure their names are clearly identified. You may choose primary beneficiaries, such as your spouse and children, along with other heirs. Make sure to check your state’s laws for inheritance.
  4. List all your assets, like your real estate and bank accounts, and choose who gets what percent of your total assets. If you have children, you may want to establish a testamentary trust, which appoints a settlor (establisher of trust), a trustee (overseer of assets), and a beneficiary(s) (receiver(s) of trust benefits). You should also choose a legal guardian for if you have minor or incapacitated children and you pass away.
  5. Sign your will and ask two or three witnesses to sign it as well.

Living Will

A living will is different from a regular will and a healthcare power of attorney. While a regular will comes into effect after you’re deceased, a living will applies if you become incapacitated. It’s also different than a healthcare power of attorney, as it allows you to determine your end-of-life healthcare wishes if you become terminally ill or in a permanent vegetative state.

HIPAA Release

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) states that medical records need to be kept confidential. If you want specific family members to have access to your medical records, you need to complete a HIPAA Release document. By completing the document, your medical provider can share and discuss your medical situation with the specified individuals.

ICE Book of Important Documents

An in case of emergency (ICE) book is a resourceful tool for families to have quick access to your important legal documents.

These are some important documents you should include. To see the full list, check out this ICE book article.

  • Tax returns (at least five years worth)
  • List of bank accounts
  • Medical and dental records
  • Insurance information
  • Birth certificate
  • Social security card
  • List of important passwords
  • Your funeral arrangement wishes


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