After you die, life goes on for your loved ones. Do them a favor, and don't inconvenience them with your demise.

Barring Armageddon or the total collapse of society (both of which require no formal financial plan), some sad soul will be stuck wrapping up your financial affairs once you're gone. Even before then, there's a good chance you'll be at least temporarily incapable of managing your money on your own.

However, there is good news. It doesn't take much to put a few safeguards in place so you don't have to worry about this stuff. Here's all you have to do:

  1. Complete four important documents.
  2. Pick your heirs and write their names in the appropriate blanks.
  3. Let important people know where your stuff is.

First, fill out these important documents:

Your will (last will and testament)
What it is: Your will details exactly what happens to your property (and potentially your minor dependents) when you die.
Where to get it: See an attorney. It won't cost you much, and you'll get it done quickly and correctly. If you opt for preprinted, fill-in-the-blanks forms and software, be sure it's up-to-date and conforms to the laws of your state.

Living will (advance medical directive)
What it is: This says you want the right to die a natural death, free of all costly, extraordinary efforts to keep you alive when your life can be sustained only by artificial means.
Where to get it: This document is available free at virtually every hospital in the nation.

Durable power of attorney AND medical power of attorney (health-care proxy)
What it is: These documents allow the person that you select to make decisions on your behalf -- financial and legal in the first case, medical in the second case -- when you are incapacitated.
Where to get it: We suggest you see an attorney for these, too.

Bum out your loved ones
It's not the ideal dinner-table patter, but your loved ones should know your wishes for health and medical care and funeral arrangements. So pick a sunny day, and discuss the use of life support systems when there is no reasonable expectation of recovery and your wishes for organ donation.

With the proper documents in place, your loved ones can legally act on your behalf without a court order, saving thousands in attorney expenses, court fees, and a lot of time -- far more than the small cost of drafting these documents now.

Like to plan parties? Plan your memorial service in advance! So it might not be all streamers and exotic dancers (as one friend requested for his funeral). But if you let your loved ones know your wishes in advance, they will be less likely to be pressured into high-cost services through a misguided sense of respect for the deceased. If you have made advance funeral arrangements, tell them about it and make sure they know with whom and where the pertinent documents may be found.

Estate planning doesn't have to be all doom and gloom. Along the road to permanent retirement are a lot of fun pit stops. (Quitting the working world! Spoiling the grandkids! Splurging on cruise wear! Yelling at young whippersnappers!) Those, too, require a formal plan. Grab some free pointers from Rule Your Retirement editor Robert Brokamp and show your loved ones you mean it when you say you want them to be happy when you finally take a trip to the hereafter.