In the country song “Live Like You Were Dying,” Tim McGraw asks a stranger how he reacted to the news that he only had a short time left to live. The stranger listed off several fun activities and relationships he worked on in the short amount of time he left. How about you? What would you do in those final days? How do you want your loved ones to spend that last amount of time with you? Very few of us would include appointments with attorneys and financial professionals on our “bucket list.” So how can you avoid that scenario? Two words: planning and communication.

Like most things, start with a plan. Then if you want your wishes carried out, you’d better tell the people who will be responsible for doing that – your loved ones.

So what do you need to plan? While this is not an exhaustive list, consider these documents as you get started (even if you have updated estate documents). Then, think about how to organize them effectively. Some people stick everything in a box, a binder, or maybe even a spreadsheet.

  1. Contact information for your team of professionals. This information should include your financial advisor, attorney, accountant, funeral home, and anyone else you deem essential for your loved ones to contact.
  2. Your will. This document will put someone in charge of your affairs and identify who gets what, so the state doesn’t decide for you.
  3. Trust documents. Unlike your will, these documents may keep your estate private and allow for more control over who gets what, when they get it, and how they get it.
  4. Prenuptial or postnuptial agreement.
  5. A list of assets, liabilities, beneficiaries, and insurance policies. When in doubt, list it here. It’s better to have too much information than too little. Have you reviewed your life insurance or retirement plan beneficiaries lately?
  6. Living Will. This document lets you appoint someone to make sure that your end-of-life wishes are respected.
  7. Digital access. So much of our lives are online. If your family needs electronic access to information, then make sure they have the usernames and passwords to do it. Include a list of any subscriptions or payments set to auto-renew so your family can cancel them.

Now it’s time for “the talk.” How you communicate your end-of-life plans to your loved ones is personal to you. If you aren’t comfortable with a formal conversation around the topic, try writing a letter first. Your letter may start a more extended discussion over several years, in which you can engage your estate attorney or RCG advisor. Providing loved ones a complete understanding of your wishes is a beautiful gift that will ease their minds during a possibly difficult time.