An image of paper with "Estate Planning" printed as the header and a pen
While last-minute estate planning poses challenges, some steps can be implemented to tackle crucial considerations
by Nikki Anne Schmutz

Deciding to place a loved one on hospice is a difficult choice. In my role of assisting families who are faced with this choice, I am continually surprised by how many haven’t done basic estate planning and are suddenly faced with the idea of making sure their estate is in order.

An August 2023 analysis from the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College reveals that only 46% of Americans aged 55 and above have engaged in proper estate planning. Families lacking adequate preparation will likely face numerous uncertainties regarding necessary actions.

Being able to do any last-minute estate planning depends entirely on your loved one. If they cannot speak for themselves, last-minute planning may not be an option unless they have already signed over Power of Attorney. If there is some time, the person who is being put on hospice may be able to complete a few tasks that will make things easier for the surviving family members when the time comes. Ideally, these families should seek guidance from an attorney or another professional.

While last-minute estate planning poses challenges, some steps can be implemented to tackle crucial considerations, some of which may be discussed during the hospice intake process. Here are essential last-minute estate planning suggestions that can be provided to families.

1. Create or Update a Will

If the patient doesn't have a will, they should create one as soon as possible. If they have one, they should review and update it to reflect their current wishes. They should be allowed to communicate their wishes with family and other key individuals. This can help prevent misunderstandings and ensure that everyone is aware of their intentions.

2. Designate Beneficiaries

Ensure that all the accounts (bank accounts, retirement accounts, life insurance policies) have designated beneficiaries. This ensures a smoother transfer of assets.

3. Consider a Revocable Living Trust

While setting up a trust typically takes time, a revocable living trust could be considered for certain assets to avoid probate and provide flexibility in managing their estate.

4. Power of Attorney & Health Care Proxy

The person needs to designate someone they trust to make financial and health care decisions on their behalf through a durable power of attorney and health care proxy. This is often handled when a person is placed on hospice if it wasn’t already done.

5. Guardianship for Minor Children

If they have minor children, they can designate a guardian in their will to ensure their care and well-being. Usually, those who are terminally ill at a young age have already thought about what will happen to their children and have taken steps - unless the onset of illness has happened quickly.

6. Emergency Document Kit

It is a good idea to prepare a document kit that includes important information such as a list of assets, passwords, insurance policies and contact information for financial and legal professionals. Keep important documents, such as the will, trust documents and insurance policies, in a secure and easily accessible location.

7. Digital Assets

Too many people underestimate the impact of digital assets on our estates. Keeping track of online accounts can be difficult, but is very helpful to those who need to know accounts are there. Some families spend months shutting down digital accounts as emails hit their loved one's inbox. Include instructions for the management or transfer of digital assets, including social media accounts, email accounts, and online financial accounts. There are also ways to leave legacy contacts for social media accounts that will need to be memorialized or shut down in the future.

8. Finalize Important Decisions

If there are specific decisions that have been put off, such as selecting an executor or making decisions about end-of-life care, they should be addressed as soon as possible. Otherwise, they will be handed after passing by a probate court if probate is needed.

9. Seek Professional Advice

While time may be limited, families should consider consulting with an estate planning attorney or financial advisor for guidance tailored to their specific situation. They can give insight into the most effective ways to handle last-minute estate planning.


Engaging in estate planning long before entering hospice is the best approach to ensure their estate is handled correctly and to their wishes. It is essential to recognize the importance of collaborating with professionals for a more thorough estate planning process when time permits. While last-minute estate planning may not address all aspects comprehensively, taking these proactive steps can offer a fundamental level of protection and clarity for all parties involved.

Nikki Anne Schmutz was born and raised in the great state of Utah. She is a published writer and has spent many years working with special needs children and adults as a caretaker and registered behavior technician (RBT). In 2016 her life turned upside-down when she was widowed and left to care for four dependent children. Nikki found a role she was made for when she became an estate specialist in 2019 at Full-Circle Aftercare. In February 2021 she was promoted to management as the account manager where she has been happily directing her funeral home and hospice clients (and their families) through the maze of non-legal personal estate settlement.