Getting Started With End-of-Life Planning

We know that the phrase “end-of-life planning” can be a turnoff. Thinking about — and acting on — your end-of-life plans might seem morbid and depressing at first. Unfortunately, that’s why many people avoid taking steps that could bring peace of mind and other benefits to themselves and their loved ones.

But whether you’re deciding between cremation and burial or getting your will in order, end-of-life planning doesn’t have to be depressing. Just consider a few facts.

  • Not planning can leave you living life with a small voice of worry or fear in the back of your mind.
  • Leaving plans to the last minute can mean you don’t have time to ensure all your wishes are known or carried out.
  • Not planning at all makes it more likely that your wishes won’t be carried out and it puts an extra burden on your loved ones.
  • Planning for end-of-life isn’t going to make it come any faster.

If you’re not sure where to start with end-of-life planning, we’ve provided some tips to jump start the process below.

Step 1: Assess which end-of-life tasks you still need to do

Trying to figure out what you need to do can be daunting, so start by looking back at what you have done. We’ve created a checklist you can use for this inventory.

Here’s how to use this list to start your preplanning:

  • Put a check mark next to anything you’ve already done or already have.
  • If you’re not sure what an item is or you need to think more about it before you decide to make it part of your plan, put a question mark next to it.
  • If you know you want to include an item in your preplan, circle it.
  • If you know you don’t want to include an item in your preplan, cross through it.

That lets you narrow down the following items you’ll need to research and learn about, and which things you need to act on.

End-of-Life Preplanning List

  • Next of kin (the person you will indicate is your NOK on medical and other paperwork)
  • Power of attorney (for health care, legal, or financial)
  • Health care advance directive (to record your wishes about end-of-life care or life-saving medical measures)
  • Wills
  • Trusts
  • Deciding on cremation versus burial
  • Preplanning for cremation or burial
  • Prepaying for cremation or burial
  • Preplanning for a memorial
  • A list of digital assets (online accounts, passwords, etc.)
  • Talking to loved ones about your plans

While this list contains the most common preplanning tasks and items, it’s not comprehensive, and you may want to add your own tasks. For a comprehensive preplanning list, check out our free guide.

Step 2: Research So You Can Make End-of-Life Choices that are Best for You

Once you have a list of items that you know you’ll want to tackle at some point, you can start researching.

Everplans has a lot of information about estate planning topics, including wills, that you can read. FindLaw’s estate planning section is also full of information.

You may also want to begin researching cremation or funeral providers so you understand what your options are. Neptune Society has numerous free resources on preplanning that you can download, and you can also take part in informational luncheons or set up a meeting in person or via phone to find out more about cremation and memorial services.

When conducting your research, take time to look up phrases, concepts, and words you’re unfamiliar with. Preplanning often comes with terms that sound much more complex than they really are, so don’t let a few big words worry you.

Step 3: Talk to Trusted Family, Friends, or Advisers

Finally, remember that you don’t have to preplan alone. Involving people you trust in the process or talking to them about your options and decisions can provide additional peace of mind. Reaching out to a trusted professional or religious leader with questions can help you know if you’re making the right decision, and mulling things over with a family member can make brainstorming and considering your options easier.

Talking things out also makes you realize that you’re just making plans to handle a natural part of life. That makes the entire process seem less depressing and morbid: preplanning is not something you have to hide or keep secret.

Some people you may want to talk to include:

  • Loved ones who can provide support for you throughout the process and ensure your wishes are followed at the time of need.
  • Professionals, including attorneys, doctors or accountants, who may need to know what your plans are if they assist you in various aspects of your life or may be able to provide advice regarding your plans.
  • Religious leaders, such as pastors, priests or rabbis, who can help you understand how your preplanning and your faith beliefs align.
  • Family or friends who have gone through any preplanning experiences and might be able to offer advice or recommendations.

If you’re unsure of your plans or nervous about preplanning, try to avoid naysayers or people who tend to be negative. Instead, approach people who will be honest, thoughtful, and supportive in their discussions about preplanning with you.

Want More Information About End-of-Life Preplanning?

Subscribe to our Thinking Ahead email series to get in-depth information about numerous preplanning topics, from finances to funeral arrangements.


Note: This post is intended as a resource to help families. If you choose to preplan your final wishes, speak with an attorney, financial adviser, medical provider, or family members for advice on how best to proceed for your specific needs and wishes.


The Neptune Society is the nation’s oldest and largest provider of affordable cremation services. Whether you have an immediate need or want to plan cremation services in advance, we are always available to assist you and your family.

Call 1-800-NEPTUNE (800-637-8863) today or contact us online to learn more.