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A Checklist for Getting Your Affairs in Order

February 1, 2023.

A Checklist for Getting Your Affairs in Order: Documents to Prepare for the Future

No one ever plans to be sick or disabled. Yet, planning for the future can make all the difference in an emergency and at the end-of-life. Being prepared and having important documents in a single place can give you peace of mind, help ensure your wishes are honored, and ease the burden on your loved ones.

A Checklist for Getting Your Affairs in Order

This list provides common steps to consider when getting your affairs in order.

  1. Plan for your estate and financesDepending on your situation, you may choose to prepare different types of legal documents to outline how your estate and finances will be handled in the future. Common documents include a will, durable power of attorney for finances, and a living trust.
  • will specifies how your estate — your property, money, and other assets — will be distributed and managed when you die. A will can also address care for children under age 18, adult dependents, and pets, as well as gifts and end-of-life arrangements, such as a funeral or memorial service and burial or cremation. If you do not have a will, your estate will be distributed according to the laws in your state.
  • durable power of attorney for finances names someone who will make financial decisions for you when you are unable to.
  • living trust names and instructs a person, called the trustee, to hold and distribute property and funds on your behalf when you are no longer able to manage your affairs.
  1. Plan for your future health care.  Many people choose to prepare advance directives, which are legal documents that provide instructions for medical care and only go into effect if you cannot communicate your own wishes due to disease or severe injury. The most common advance directives include a living will and a durable power of attorney for health care.
  • living will tells doctors how you want to be treated if you cannot make your own decisions about emergency treatment. You can say which common medical treatments or care you would want, which ones you would want to avoid, and under which conditions each of your choices applies.
  • durable power of attorney for health care names your health care proxy, a person who can make health care decisions for you if you are unable to communicate these yourself. Your proxy — also known as a representative, surrogate, or agent — should be familiar with your values and wishes. A proxy can be chosen in addition to or instead of a living will. Having a health care proxy helps you plan for situations that cannot be foreseen, such as a serious auto accident or stroke.


These documents are part of advance care planning, which involves preparing for future decisions about your medical care and discussing your wishes with your loved ones.

  1. Put your important papers and copies of legal documents in one placeYou can set up a file, put everything in a desk or dresser drawer, or list the information and location of papers in a notebook. For added security, you might consider getting a fireproof and waterproof safe to store your documents. If your papers are in a bank safe deposit box, keep copies in a file at home.
  2. Tell someone you know and trust or a lawyer where to find your important papers. You don’t need to discuss your personal affairs, but someone you trust should know where to find your papers in case of an emergency. If you don’t have a relative or friend you trust, ask a lawyer to help.
  3. Talk to your loved ones and a doctor about advance care planning. A doctor can help you understand future health decisions you may face and plan the kinds of care or treatment you may want. Discussing advance care planning with your doctor is free through Medicare during your annual wellness visit. Private health insurance may also cover these discussions. Share your decisions with your loved ones to help avoid any surprises or misunderstandings about your wishes.
  4. Give permission in advance for a doctor or lawyer to talk with your caregiver as needed. If you need help managing your care, you can give your caregiver permission to talk with your doctors, your lawyer, your insurance provider, a credit card company, or your bank. You may need to sign and return a form. Giving permission for your doctor or lawyer to talk with your caregiver is different from naming a health care proxy. A health care proxy can only make decisions if you are unable to communicate them yourself.
  5. Review your plans regularly.  It’s important to review your plans at least once each year and when any major life event occurs, like a divorce, move, or major change in your health.


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National Institute on Aging.  “Getting Your Affairs in Order Checklist: Documents to Prepare for the Future.”  Getting Your Affairs in Order Checklist: Documents to Prepare for the Future | National Institute on Aging (  February 1, 2023.


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