The Last of your Death Documents

***Time for this post?  Reading…10 minutes. Listening…2 minutes. Implementing…one bit at a time.

I’ve recently written about Wills, Power of Attorney, and Personal Directives. All are essential because they cover differing aspects of managing our affairs before and after death.

These documents are not necessarily quick and easy to make. It would be understandable if you’re feeling that it’s an onerous task to put things in order for your eventual demise!

Sorry! There are three more documents to consider—your Last Wishes Letter, Paper Trail, and a Supported Decision-Making Authorization. These aren’t legally required, but will ease things for you and your family in a variety of ways.

This post gives you the essential information you need to make each of them happen. They don’t all need to be done at once, but after reading this you will have in the back of your mind what is required to get each of them completed when you are ready to do it.

Supported Decision-Making…

Here’s how the Alberta government describes supported decision-making

Even if an adult is capable of making decisions, there may be times when they need someone to help make non-financial decisions. This is called supported decision-making.

A supporter’s help is often needed when the adult is ill, has mild disabilities, doesn’t speak English well, or is facing a complex decision.

A supporter helps communicate the adult’s questions, concerns and decisions by talking to their service providers, who could include doctors, pharmacists, care centres, and employers.

A supporter has the legal authority to access the adult’s personal information like medical records and to help the adult think through decisions.

Click on the image below for a printable version of a supported decision-making form. As you will see, it allows you to appoint up to three people to provide support for you when you need it.

Witnessing the form

This form is a do-it-yourself process but it requires witnessing. The witness does not need to know or approve of what is in the document. He or she is there to simply watch you sign. The instruction sheet the came with my form says the “witness cannot be one of your supporters.” It is also understood that a witness must be the age of majority.

That’s how it is in Alberta, Canada. Elsewhere, you might find something similar. It’s worth checking. This kind of assistance can make your elder-hood easier.

Last Wishes Letter. Why?

Your Will is all business. It ensures distribution of your material possessions and financial assets after you’ve died. But there is no “touchy-feely” quality to it. A Will does not provide any means of specifying how you want your body handled after you’ve left it, who you would like notified of your passing, and how you want to be memorialized.

The solution is for you to create a Last Wishes Letter. This is not a legal document, but rather a means of “speaking” to your family. In fact, you may want to literally speak to them by going over it with them while you’re still alive.

Getting down to it…

The contents of your Last Wishes Letter are entirely up to you. The following guidelines will help you get started.

~~ Your body…

Think about things like funeral, cremation, or body donation? Do you care where the ashes are spread? Open or closed casket? Do you have a preferred funeral home? Have you pre-paid for services? Is there a family burial plot? Do you want your funeral at home? What would that involve?

~~ Memorialization…

Do you envision a large funeral service in a religious building? A memorial service at the funeral home? What music do you want…or not want? Is your community of friends scattered across the country or the world, making either of those options impractical? What are the key facts you’d like included in your obituary? Have you written your own obituary to ensure accuracy of details? Do you want a tree planted in your name? A plaque on a wall at the cemetery where your urn is buried or your ashes scattered? Do you care?

~~ Special items and clarifications…

Taffy & Dolly

Dolly is one of the antiques I will be passing on to my two granddaughters. She was a gift from Santa Claus in the early 1950s. Recently, my sister sent Taffy, same vintage, to live at my house. Taffy is a gift, as long as she stays in my family. However, if my granddaughters don’t want her at inheritance time, Karen has asked that Taffy be returned…a fair and important request.

Why is this important? If Karen’s request is overlooked, that could cause hard feelings which might become irreparable. Most of us can think of examples from our own families where something like this has happened.

So here’s what I did… I printed the above photo on a letter-sized sheet of paper, leaving room around it for notations. I clearly indicated which doll was which, identifying the one that belongs to my sister. Then I wrote the details of our arrangement on the page. I have sent a copy to Karen, gave a copy to both my kids, and put the original page in my death documents file. I think I’ve covered all the bases and left no room for hard feelings!

Most of us have things that we’ve promised to people—a cherished item, a sum of money, forgiveness of a loan, or who knows what else. If you want to make sure things happen as you intended, then put the details in writing and share copies with everyone who should know about it.

~~ A personal message…

What you say, or don’t say, in your Last Wishes Letter is entirely up to you. “Goodbye. I love you. I am so proud of who you’ve become” is enough.

But if you want to say more and don’t know where to start, do a web search for “legacy letters” or “ethical wills.” You’ll find many websites to help you. I particularly like this description by Bill Zimmerman

Every parent or adult should consider passing down to a beloved child a written legacy, or letters, focusing on all the important things which they have learned in their lives. Such legacy letters strengthen that child’s ability to survive in life and deal with all the good and bad things to be experienced in years to come. These legacy letters might include family values, lessons learned, memories, and hopes or dreams for that child. Such legacy notes also convey the wisdom that a parent or relative has acquired and which would be helpful for a child to know.

Legacy letters let you determine how you want to be remembered.

…you can start your own legacy letter by answering three short questions:

  1. How do you want to be remembered?
  2. What’s something you’ve learned from your parents?
  3. What challenges have you overcome?


Click on the image above for a printable template for your Last Wishes Letter with spaces for jotting down some rough notes. When the rough outline is done, you can type it out, handwrite the whole thing, dictate your thoughts onto a video, or format it however you like. And, if you happen to die at the rough-note stage, your family will still have some idea of what you wanted them to know.

Paper Trail…

Like your Will, the Paper Trail is all business. It contains particulars about your legal and financial affairs, including location of documents such as land titles, birth certificate, divorce papers, and anything else that will help your executor more easily wind up your affairs. Your Paper Trail is also a good place to record pertinent health information such as healthcare numbers, where you get prescriptions filled, name of your health practitioners with contact information. This will be helpful for your agent if your Personal Directive must be brought into effect because of a deteriorated mental state.

Click on the image below for a printable fill-in-the-blanks version. To download the Word file of this Paper Trail document, click here.

It has been a lot to take in these past few weeks. You can’t do it all at once. Take a breath and start somewhere, with one small thing…

Please note: Laws vary between provinces, states, and countries. I’m using information from where I live to illustrate principles, but you will need to check the details in your jurisdiction. The Internet is a good place to start.

Death Documents — The Full Picture

*** Time for this post?  Reading…5 minutes. Listening…4 minutes. Smiling…for as long as you can!

You’ve made your Will.

That’s a good thing.

Maybe you’ve asked the lawyer to prepare your Power of Attorney at the same time.

Even better.

But there’s more to consider…

Your Will and Power of Attorney direct what happens to your money and belongings.  But what about you, your person, your being?

After you’ve died, what do you want done with your body? How do you want to be memorialized? Who do you want notified of your passing? Who will know what you want? No one, unless you tell them.That’s why you should write a Last Wishes Letter.

As you age, what if you are no longer able to live alone in your home?  Where do you want to be cared for? Suppose you are very ill and in the hospital. Do you want to stay there or be moved to a hospice? Do you want medical staff to use heroic measures to prolong your life…or not? Who will make these personal decisions for you when you can’t? How will they know what to do? These are serious questions for those looking after you. You make it a lot easier for them if you’ve documented your wishes in a Personal Directive, sometimes called a Living Will, Advance Directive, or Health Care Directive)

Here’s one more scenario. Suppose, as you age, you are still mentally competent but medical appointments and information have become daunting at the same time as your medical conditions are becoming more complicated. You’d like your adult children to be able to speak to your doctor to clarify. Because of strict privacy laws these days, doctors are not at liberty to divulge information about you to anyone, not even family, unless you have completed a Supported Decision-Making Authorization.

The full picture…

So…that makes a total of five documents. Some apply when you are alive, others only after you have died. Each is important in its own sphere of influence. Here’s the full picture. Click here for a printable version.

All except your Last Wishes Letter are legal documents, but only the Will and Power of Attorney require visiting a lawyer. The Personal Directive and Supported Decision-Making Authorization  must be witnessed, but you can fill out the forms yourself and arrange to have your signature witnessed.

More about these remaining documents over the next couple weeks. In the meantime, while you digest and assimilate this big picture,  here’s something to lift your spirits…

Playing For Change is a movement created to inspire and connect the world through music. The idea for this project came from a belief that music has the power to break down boundaries and overcome distances between people. You can listen to many more of their Songs Around The World on their website.

Next week…Personal Directives. If there are questions you’d like addressed, leave them in the comment box below so I can include the answers next week.

Please note: Laws vary between provinces, states, and countries. I’m using information from where I live to illustrate principles, but you will need to check the details in your jurisdiction. The Internet is a good place to start.