Planning & Paperwork

Essential Documents

There are six essential documents everyone should have in completed, updated yearly, stored in a safe place, and that safe place known by the people you trust to take care of your affairs if you are not able to.

  • Will
  • Living Will
  • Power of Attorney – Health
  • Power of Attorney – Finance
  • Disposition of Body

Everyone must make the time to complete these essential documents and choose a date to review them every year. I suggest the season of Samhain or All Hallows in late October and early November, the time of year when many cultures honor their beloved dead. It makes sense; the harvest season is over, gardens are dying, and we look forward to the dark time of winter. These are all great reminders to review your paperwork. Things change in a year! Minor children become adults; relationships, locations, financial situations and even spiritual paths can change greatly in twelve short months.

An Advance Directive is a written expression of treatment preferences prepared in advance. They usually fall into three categories:

1) Living Will
2) Power of Attorney
3) Health Care Proxy

A POLST (Physicians Orders Life Sustaining Treatment) is a type of Advanced Directive with a more specific instruction detail than a living will. If you do not have an advance directive and are unable to speak for yourself, life-sustaining treatment will be administered.

In Washington State, we have three amazing resources for these documents.

The Department of Health online registry
Peoples Memorial Association
Honor My Wishes

These three organizations have everything you need!


There are several resources online to help you get started with your will. I encourage you to get legal assistance with your final copy. Please remember that anyone who is a beneficiary in any way cannot witness your signature for a will. Even in states where a notary is not required, I suggest you have your document signatures notarized for security. Always keep a copy in the home and in a secure place like a bank safe deposit box. Be sure to remember where the key is!

Living Will

Everyone should have a living will, no matter your age. In this document, you express your health care wishes. It offers peace of mind to your family, as they will know what your wishes are.

Show it to your friends and family, and be aware that you have the right to change it any time.
Washington state has an excellent online registry that includes a

1) Health Care Directive
2) Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care
3) Mental Health Directive
4) Physician Orders for Life Sustaining Treatment. (POLST)

It is FREE and available to Washington residents. Excellent!

Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care

The following links provide detailed information about Living Wills and Power of Attorney. (In the Power of Attorney for Health Care, you appoint someone to make medical decisions for you if you are no longer able to make them yourself.)

Questions and Answers on Living Wills

Questions and Answers on Powers of Attorney

Durable Power of Attorney for Finance

The time may come when you need someone else to act for you. A document that gives Power of Attorney to that person should be clear and understandable. Give only the powers you want to give. They can be very limited or very broad. This can involve decisions about you or your minor children. It can allow the person to buy or sell things, manage your business, collect debts, invest your money, cash checks, and handle overall financial management.

Please consult an attorney to review your final documents. For more information, click here.

Disposition of Body

This is often the most overlooked document in planning, and is certainly essential! It allows you to name the person that you want to make decisions and have custody of your body. Click here to download the Washington State document.

HIPAA or Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act

This document is important because it allows for communication between ther person of your choice and your health care providers. It also assures your privacy. These are specific to your health care provider. If you do not have a health care provider, ask your area hospital for a copy for you to complete. Once completed, a copy of this document should be stored with your other documents. It should also be on file at your local hospital or health provider’s office.

Great information is available at
American Academy of Family Physicians
American Medical Association
Department of Health & Human Services

Paperwork for Home Funerals

When planning a home funeral (or when you just want to get your paperwork in order) it’s good to record your thoughts in writing. Discuss your plans with those you love and begin to build relationships with local providers. If your intent is a direct cremation (direct to the crematorium from your home or memorial site) it is good to have a conversation with your local provider and see what they can offer you. Will they allow you to witness the start of the cremation, and if so, is there a fee? Supporting our local providers is important and most funeral directors are interested in healthy relationships with the people of their community.

Lisa Carlson’s book Caring for the Dead – Your Final Act of Love includes a state by state listing of laws and regulations on caring for our dead. Laws are listed by code. Several laws have changed or been amended since this book was published. These updates are available for download here. I suggest you keep a copy of these changes inside the book. If your state has changes, note them directly on that page in the book so they do not go overlooked.

If you really want to make this process easy and affordable, there are two organizations that have all the documents and information you need. The information they both offer is legal, and one of them does all kinds of good work around end-of-life including advocacy in the courts and state wide price surveys from funeral providers. I fully support both of these organizations:

Peoples Memorial Association is a non-sectarian, non-profit organization that has enrolled over 175,000 members in Washington State. A lifetime membership is only $25 and offers a variety of incredible benefits. PMA is well-known for offering members affordable, dignified cremation rates. This is not a pre-paid plan; it is a resource. PMA is a respected member of the Funeral Consumers Alliance. I have given membership in this organization to people I cherish because of the resources and services they offer, and the tireless education and advocacy they offer our state.

Honor My Wishes is a coalition of volunteers committed to helping individuals through the end stage of life. They help in all areas including the dying process, death itself or even the aftermath. HMW has a vision for society to plan effectively for these concerns and to have discussion about end-of-life become a normal part of our conversations. Through their membership they offer a comprehensive binder with all legal documents, and it is thoughtfully done in three parts: Dignity, Security, and Peace. The entire binder is now available online but I fully recommend the beautiful binder for a “one place keeps all” approach.

Worksheet for Death Certificate for Washington State