Procrastinator by nature?
If you are not prone to planning ahead, this could be your wake-up call.
James, age 38, went around a corner on his motor cycle, was struck by another vehicle, and landed in the hospital with brain trauma.
Sarah, age 52, was out with a friend and suffered an aneurism, which left her paralyzed on one side.
Millie, age 78, is widowed and suffering from dementia. She has been scammed several times.
Michael, away at college, was in an accident. His desperate father could get no information over the phone, from the hospital.
What these people have in common is a medical condition that they never saw coming, and failed to plan for. How it turns out for them depends on many factors, but without the proper Top Five Documents put in place, even immediate family will have a very difficult time getting needed information, and handling their affairs while they are living.
If you are over age 17, there are five documents that you should consider having, and update regularly, in order to cover all the bases when life goes on, but doesn’t go your way. Every state has different laws, so this is general advice, and you should find out the specifics for your state.
FOR THE LIVING
These are the documents you need to consider to protect yourself, your wishes, and your assets…just in case.
1. Durable General Power of Attorney
This allows someone to act in your place, when you cannot sign documents. It works while you are living only. Durable means it is in effect even if you lack mental capacity. ‘General’ gives broad power over many kinds of transactions and activities, which you can spell out (or limit) in the document. Many states have POA forms you can download, but use of an attorney is recommended. Specific institutions are beginning to require their own documents, or require yours to be dated within the last 2-5 years. The key is to find a trustworthy ‘agent’. Without this document, families often have to go through an expensive and very public guardianship procedure.
2. Health Care/Medical Power of Attorney
Gives someone the right to make medical decisions on your behalf, and, decline or stop treatment. You not only need to choose this person carefully, but make sure they understand what your wishes would be under various scenarios. It’s pretty useless if you keep your thoughts to yourself!
3. Advanced Directive or Living Will
This document can be a guideline for your doctors, family and medical POA, to use in decisions regarding end of life care, or it can be a hard and fast directive. Most states have a version you can download. If you are too vague, or decide not to decide, your family members will likely interpret your wishes differently and argue about them. Some states combine documents 2 & 3. Give copies to your primary physician.
4. HIPAA Release
If you were to be suddenly incapacitated and lying in a hospital, this is the document that allows doctors and medical staff to share your information with anyone you name. It is good to list several people (your children perhaps), in case one cannot be of assistance. Give a copy to your primary physician.
5. DNR (Do Not Resuscitate Order)
DNR’s are not for everyone. If you have a terminal illness, or for some reason do not want a team of emergency responders to try to revive you or keep you alive by artificial means, then you need to have a DNR, post it in a conspicuous place (like on your refrigerator), and share it with your doctor & hospital. EMT’s will usually, briefly, look for this document if they come to your house.
These days, your caregivers or executor, could find that your assets & accounts are hard to even locate, if you haven’t made arrangements to unlock your digital life. Think paperless accounts. Digital estate is a developing area of law that most states require specific language to address. Include this as part of a good estate plan, and make sure access is given if you become incapacitated.
While this is a layman’s discourse, we work with our clients to encourage them to take care of these steps, and connect them with the resources to do so. It does take time and thought, but if you want YOUR wishes followed, please get it done or your family could wind up in court just to help you.