In a famous teaching to his aunt, Mahapajapati Gotami, the Buddha describes the heartwood of the dharma, and how to gauge whether a given teaching promotes qualities that lead to release and to all the good things leading up to release. Among them are teachings that result in “being unburdensome, not to being burdensome.” In the same vein, when chanting the Sublime Attitudes, Buddhists invoke the wish to look after themselves with ease and that others may do the same.

To that end, the list that follows contains the principal documents and instructions that can help us not be a burden—at the end of life and in death—to ourselves or to our loved ones. Organizations such as Funeral Consumers Alliance and the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (see resource guide) make available end-of-life and funeral planning kits that can take much of the research and guesswork out of this process.

Keep your “dossier” in a place where it will be easy for others to locate and access, and tell people where it is. Discuss your plans and wishes with your designees. No matter how well organized and prepared you may be, if your loved ones and/or caretakers don’t know about your wishes and cannot find original documents, they likely will end up in court to get proxies and guardians appointed.  And that would be burdensome.


Advance directives (Living will/Medical power of attorney) These are the most important health-care instructions you can create to document your wishes about how you want to be cared for when you are dying. It allows your designee to carry out your requests and make any other health-care decisions on your behalf, according to your values, if you are unable to do so. If you become incapacitated, without an advance directive (or if designees can’t locate it), your caretakers will have to go to court to get a guardian appointed.

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