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A Guide to the Guides

Workbooks and guidebooks to help you organize your final wishes abound...

here's how to choose what's right for you.

It’s not easy organizing all of the information your next-of-kin (and others) may need at the end of your life. Thankfully, there are a whole host of planners, workbooks, and guides available for getting the information documented in a way that will be easy to share when the time comes. Here are several of them that I’ve acquired over the years, and some thoughts on the pros and cons of each. I’ll continue to add to this as I encounter more options. If you have one that you’d recommend, feel free to leave the info in the comments below!

NOLO Press publishes Get It Together: Organize Your Records So Your Family Won't Have To by Melanie Cullen is best for those who want to create a legally-oriented, editable, indexed A-Z directory of personal data and instructions. Hardcopy or electronic versions available.

Two solid options with a fill-in-the-blank approach include A Graceful Farewell: Putting Your Affairs in Order by Maggie Watson (Includes CD with forms) and Gwen Morgan’s What if … Workbook™.

My favorite of the bunch is Before I Go, You Should Know, by the Funeral Consumers Alliance. This guidebook/workbook hybrid is comprehensive but not as long and overwhelming as some others, and includes alternatives such as home viewings, green burial, etc. It is available spiral bound or as a digital, editable version.

There are a number of guides that focus on medical directives specifically. An excellent one by the organization Aging with Dignity is The Five Wishes , which combines the living will (check state law for legal applicability) and last wishes into one document. It’s filled with questions that provide information for your family and doctor when life or death decisions are necessary. The Conversation Project’s Conversation Starter Kit is a useful tool to help you have the conversation with a family member, friend, or other loved one about your – or their – wishes regarding end-of-life care. Versions are available in many languages, and for a range of health/age/family situations, all for free.

If funeral plans in particular are what you’re looking to explore, The Green Burial Council offers a short interactive planning tool called Your Green Burial Planning Guide that allows users to prioritize their environmental, economic and spiritual values as well as choosing arrangements from a checklist of green options. ObituariesHelp.org has a Funeral Planning Checklist that provides an exhaustive nuts-and-bolts list of items and helps to organize and compare costs. Unlike many similar products provided by the funeral industry, this tool encourages informed, low-cost options.

Increasingly, there are all-electronic options for discerning and documenting your final wishes. If you're looking for a quick, user-friendly way to "discover, store, and share" your end-of-life preferences, check out CAKE 's site and companion app. If you are looking to create a detailed (and secure) digital archive holding "everything your loved ones will need should something happen to you,” look into the options offered by Everplans.

Before or during your process of documenting your wishes, you will likely be wondering about the range of options available as well as details of the cost, logistics, or practicality of certain approaches--especially "unconventional" ones. If you're seeking clarity about your final arrangements, please be in touch or sign up for my newsletter so I can let you know of recent developments that may impact your planning as well as any upcoming educational events.

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