As seniors get older, decisions that are difficult eventually may need to be decided upon. If a person of senior age still has the capacity to manage their legal, financial and health affairs, then it is essential that legal planning should be started as soon as they can spare. In the American culture, there’s this unspoken belief that no matter what, people will always be able to take care of things in their future. That they will never become incapacitated, or reach the point in which they have no control of daily functional actions. Unfortunately, this can happen to anyone, and it can be very random and sudden.
This is why it is so important for people of senior age to make plans to get their house in order. Whatever documents they deem as “important papers” should be organized, prepared and in safe custody. Below are a few items that are normally prepared in case something dire happens, along with a general list of what to do to start getting things prepared.
Living Trusts, Last Wills
The last will is a document that is legal and binding, and which directs what needs to be done with a person’s capital and assets in the event that they become deceased. The will also declare the executor, who is the person that is in charge of any issues surrounding any assets named. In order to be effective, a will has to be probated – verified to be genuine and valid – in order for it to become active. If one wants to avoid this possibly long and costly court process, they can instead setup a living trust. If done correctly, typically a court would not need to validate the trust. If someone passes away with no will or living trust, then the law of the state will determine what should be done with a person’s assets.
A living will, which is also known as a directive of health care, or an advanced directive is a statement, written to dictate the health desires of a person in case they become terminally ill, incapacitated, or lacking the ability to communicate their wishes. It’s important to also file a document called a “Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care (DPOAHC), which names a particular person as a health care agent. This health care agent will have the authority to make necessary decisions regarding healthcare, and is also solely responsible for making sure that provider do carry out the desires of the person that is incapacitated. To create a living will, and also to name a DPOAHC are easy procedures that can be carried out. You can get free forms to perform this at your local Area Agencies on Aging. However, it is recommended to consult with a skilled attorney when naming an agent.
In addition to getting these documents prepared, it’s also recommended to take the additional steps below to ensure that your important papers are in order:
- Communicate with a family member or friend that you trust, and tell them where you’ve decided to put all of your important documents.
- Discuss the preferences of your life ending with your primary physician.
- Give advanced permission for your lawyer or doctor to communicate with your chosen caregiver as needed.