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Getting Your Affairs in Order

Most of us don't like to think about drawing up a will, signing "do not resuscitate" orders, or planning funeral services. So we don't. But when we're diagnosed with a life-threatening illness, these things suddenly take on a new urgency.

In the midst of coping with the medical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual challenges of serious illness, mundane logistical details must be managed as well. And if you don't address them now, someone else will have to address them later.

Before time begins to run short, it's important to make sure that you put everything in order as you would like it to be.

What are the most important things you need in end-of-life planning? The must-do list: A will, advance directives, durable power of attorney for health care decisions, and funeral and burial/cremation preferences.

Making a Will

More than half of U.S. adults don't have a will. But you need one, even if you don't have a vast estate to distribute among your heirs.

People who die intestate -- the legal term for "without a will" -- send their loved ones to court to navigate the probate process and to deal with dividing property while they're still grieving.

And ask yourself this: Do you want to determine where your assets go, or do you want the state to do it?

Writing a will isn't that difficult. There are a number of inexpensive online will writing programs. Better still, hire a family law attorney to help you draft one. The costs vary widely based on where you live and how much time your situation will require from the lawyer, but unless you have an enormous estate to divide, it shouldn't be bank breaking.

In addition to stipulating where you want your property to go, your will or an accompanying document should also include papers outlining your plans for guardianship of minor children, if you have any.

Advance Directives

Sometimes called a living will, this document spells out the measures you would like taken, or not taken, to prolong your life. This document is legally binding. It's so important, WebMD has devoted a special article to advance directives.

Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care

Designating someone to have your power of attorney for health care does not mean you give up any power to make your own decisions. But there may come a point when you cannot speak for yourself. At that point, you will need someone to make decisions such as whether or not you would want to be kept alive on a ventilator.

This person should have a copy of your advance directives, and should know your specific wishes regarding the kinds of lifesaving measures you do and do not want.

Forms for assigning durable power of attorney for health care are available online.

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