Getting Your Affairs in Order

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No one ever plans to be sick or disabled. Yet, it’s this kind of planning that can make all the difference in an emergency.

Ben’s Story

Ben has been married for 47 years. He always managed the family’s money. But since his stroke, Ben is not able to walk or talk. His wife, Shirley, feels overwhelmed. Of course, she’s worried about Ben’s health. But, on top of that, she has no idea what bills should be paid or when they are due.

Louise’s Story

Across town, 80-year-old Louise lives alone. One night, she fell in the kitchen and broke her hip. She spent a week in the hospital and 2 months in a rehabilitation nursing home. Even though her son lives across the country, he was able to pay her bills and handle her Medicare questions right away. That’s because, several years ago, Louise and her son made a plan about what he should do in case Louise had a medical emergency.

Preparing and Organizing Legal Documents for the Future

Long before she fell, Louise put all her important papers in one place and told her son where to find them. She gave him the name of her lawyer, as well as a list of people he could contact at her bank, doctor’s office, insurance company, and investment firm. She made sure he had copies of her Medicare and other health insurance cards. She made sure her son could access her checking account and safe deposit box at the bank. Louise made sure Medicare and her doctor had written permission to talk with her son about her health and insurance claims. On the other hand, Ben always took care of family money matters, and he never talked about the details with Shirley. No one but Ben knew that his life insurance policy was in a box in the closet or that the car title and deed to the house were filed in his desk drawer. Ben never expected that his wife would have to take over. His lack of planning has made a tough job even tougher for Shirley.

What Exactly Is an “Important Paper”?

The answer to this question may be different for every family. Remember, this is a starting place. You may have other information to add. For example, if you have a pet, you will want to include the name and address of your veterinarian. Include complete information about personal and financial records.

Important Legal Documents You May Need as You Age

There are many different types of legal documents that can help you plan how your affairs will be handled in the future. Many of these documents have names that sound alike, so make sure you are getting the documents you want. Also, State laws vary, so find out about the rules, requirements, and forms used in your State.

Wills and trusts let you name the person you want your money and property to go to after you die.

Advance directives let you make arrangements for your care if you become sick. Two common types of advance directives are:

•A living will gives you a say in your health care if you become too sick to make your wishes known. In a living will, you can state what kind of care you do or don’t want. This can make it easier for family members to make tough healthcare decisions for you.

A durable power of attorney for health care lets you name the person you want to make medical decisions for you if you can’t make them yourself. Make sure the person you name is willing to make those decisions for you.

For legal matters, there are ways to give someone you trust the power to act in your place.

•A general power of attorney lets you give someone else the authority to act on your behalf, but this power will end if you are unable to make your own decisions.

•A durable power of attorney allows you to name someone to act on your behalf for any legal task, but it stays in place if you become unable to make your own decisions.

Help for Getting Your Legal and Financial Papers in Order

You may want to talk with a lawyer about setting up a general power of attorney, durable power of attorney, joint account, trust, or advance directive. Be sure to ask about the lawyer’s fees before you make an appointment.

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