Tomorrow is not promised which is why a care plan is so important but many believe this is only necessary for older folks or for those with chronic or life-threatening illnesses.
Medical experts agree that end-of-life conversations should be discussed when people are younger and be viewed as an opportunity to become empowered for what lies ahead. “Accidents happen, and they happen more often with young people. It is good for people to have a health care proxy, someone who knows what their values are,” according to Janet Abraham, M.D. a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. As a matter of fact, people who end up needing a care plan most are the ones who are expected to need it the least. 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.
How to get your affairs in order
Let’s start with important papers, what are they, you ask? Well, important papers will differ from individual to individual because everyone’s circumstances will vary but here is a general guideline:
- Social Security card
- Legal residence
- Legal names and addresses of spouse and children
- Location of birth and death certificates and certificates of marriage, divorce, citizenship, and adoption
- Employers and dates of employment
- Education and military records
- Names and phone numbers of religious contacts
- Memberships in groups and awards received
- Names and phone numbers of close friends, relatives, doctors, lawyers, and financial advisors
- Medications (dosages) taken regularly (be sure to update this info)
- Location of living will and other legal documents
- Sources of income and assets (pension from your employer, IRAs, 401(k)s, interest, etc.)
- Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid information
- Insurance information (life, health, long-term care, home, car) with policy numbers and agents’ names and phone numbers
- Names of your banks and account numbers (checking, savings, credit union)
- Investment income (stocks, bonds, property) and stockbrokers’ names and phone numbers
- Copy of most recent income tax return
- Location of most up-to-date will with an original signature
- Liabilities, including property tax—what is owed, to whom, and when payments are due
- Mortgages and debts—how and when they are paid
- Location of original deed of trust for home
- Car title and registration
- Credit and debit card names and numbers
- Location of safe deposit box and key
Put your important papers and copies of legal documents in one place. You can set up a file, put everything in a desk or dresser drawer, or even legibly list the information and location of papers in a notebook. If your papers are in a bank safe deposit box, keep copies in a file at home. Check each year to see if there’s anything new to be added.
Tell a trusted family member or friend where you put all your important papers. You don’t need to tell this friend or family member all your personal business, but someone should know where you keep your important papers in case of an emergency. If you don’t have a relative or friend you trust, ask a lawyer to help.
Granting permission to discuss your situation–There may be questions about your care, a bill, or a health insurance claim. Without your consent, your caregiver may not be able to get needed information about your situation. You can give your caregiver advanced permission to speak to Medicare, credit card companies, banks, or even your doctor. You will probably need to sign permission paperwork in a few cases so that the caregiver can provide some assistance in handling your affairs if you are unable to do so.
If your head is not spinning yet, in addition, there are legal documents to be considered that will help you plan how your affairs will be handled. State laws will differ as far as the rules, and requirements of the legal documents used in your state.
- Wills and trusts names who you want your money and property to go to after you pass away
- An advance health care directive is a kind of legal document that tells your doctor your wishes about your health care.
- A living will is a document that lets people state their wishes for end-of-life medical care, in case they become unable to communicate their decisions. It has no power after death.
- A Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care is a document that lets you name someone else to make decisions about your health care in case you are unable to make those decisions yourself. It gives that person (called your agent) instructions about the kinds of medical treatment you want. Make sure the person you name is willing to make those decisions for you.
For legal matters, there are two 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.
Who can help me put my care plan affairs 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 inquire about the legal fees involved upfront so that there aren’t any surprises after the dust settles.
You should be able to find a directory of local lawyers at your library, or you can contact your local bar association for lawyers in your area. Your local bar association can also help you find what free legal aid options your state has to offer.