Based on A Time To Prepare (Revised Edition) edited by Rabbi Richard F. Address, Union of American Hebrew Congregations, 2002. 

This version prepared by Rabbi Richard Hirsh for Jewish Sacred Aging.

[Jewish Sacred Aging does not represent the following information as authoritative or medically/legally compliant, but as advisory. It is important to check with appropriate professionals, medical, legal and rabbinic, as to specifics. As issues surrounding family dynamics may change and as laws regarding such issues as Medical Aid in Dying are also changing, please consult with your rabbi as questions arise. It is also wise to update these forms every four to five years as medical technology, family dynamics and personal choices may change.]

Preparing for End of Life: Why, When, How

If, as a popular poem teaches, “Birth is a beginning and death is a destination, and life is a journey” (Rabbi Alvin Fine), preparing for the end of that journey is both an imperative and a responsibility.

Clarifying our priorities, principles and preferences about decisions we and/or those caring for us may need to make as death approaches can assure that our wishes are carried out. And, by making end of life preparations, we can avoid placing family, friends and medical personnel in confusing or competing positions of trying to imagine what we would want done, or not done, under a number of imagined circumstances.

In addition, the emotional, economic and legal issues that follow on a death are complex. When we convey clearly in advance what our wishes are, we can reduce the number of complications faced by family or friends in managing the immediate and the subsequent concerns that arise after a loss.

End of life planning is often associated with aging, and often assumed to be something we need to consider when we reach the imagined final decades of life. But planning is a responsibility that ought equally to be fulfilled at an earlier stage of adulthood, and ought especially to be considered if one has entered into a committed relationship, particularly if that relationship involves children. While each of us would like to think we will have a long lifetime, illness or death can arrive at any time.

Whether we are coming to end of life planning early or late in life, our directives and decisions need to be reviewed regularly and updated accordingly. Personal, financial and legal circumstances are all subject to change. Preparing for end of life is an on-going process, not a single action sealed by a signature on a document.

UAHC/URJ Resolution on Compassion and Comfort Care at the End of Life (Adopted at the 63rd Biennial Convention of the UAHC in Atlanta, Georgia, December 1995)

Being In Conversation

Making end of life plans is not only a matter of organizing one’s affairs and making decisions. It can be an emotional and spiritual challenge to contemplate the time after one will have passed from this world.   Making preparations need not be an individual project. Several key conversations can help clarify issues, offer perspective, and provide guidance and support.  Among those who can be part of your decision-making process about end of life issues: family members and friends; your primary care and specialist medical professionals; a rabbi; an attorney. As you imagine making end of life preparations, conversations with family and friends about the choices they have made in this regard can be informative and provide perspective.

Getting Started

For some people, addressing the issue of end of life preparation can be so unsettling that they may delay, defer or even avoid altogether the decision-making and documenting that needs to be done to assist in management of their affairs after their death. Among the goals of end of life planning is helping those family members and friends who will be responsible for settling our estate and gifting, selling, or disposing of our material goods. An additional goal is to ensure that our estate is settled in accordance with our values, preferences and desires.

Taking the first steps towards making an end of life plan is often the hardest stage, as it may stir thoughts and feelings about mortality and related spiritual concerns. When beginning an end of life planning process feels uncomfortable or intimidating, a conversation with a rabbi may be a helpful place to start. Jewish tradition has many insightful as well as comforting perspectives on life and death, and on our opportunity as well as responsibility to leave a legacy that will comfort, calm and support those who will mourn our death.

Life Data Form

In the digital age, updating and keeping current personal data and related information (below) is an ongoing task. For the sake of family members and friends it is recommended that you review and update this document on a regular basis. Remember to date and sign each time you update and be sure print and digital copies are provided to those in charge of managing your data and disposition of your property following your death.

Here is a document you can use to reference and update essential information.

Here is a document where you can specify your funeral preferences.

Here are additional checklists and instructions from the original edition of A Time to Prepare.

Passwords and Login Information

Prepare a separate document for updating online accounts and passwords, as those are subject to change more often than information such as addresses, phone numbers and personal data. As a general rule, whenever you change a user name and/or password to essential websites that would need to be accessed by surviving family or friends (social security, Medicare, financial accounts, credit cards, etc.) you should share those updates with those entrusted to administer your estate.

If you use a single-password system behind which individual passwords are stored, it is recommended that you still keep an updated list of individual websites with your specific sign-in name and password that you can entrust to those administering your estate.

End of Life Planning Documents