One common tradition this time of year is making New Year’s resolutions, which usually includes starting good habits or stopping bad ones. It’s a timely opportunity to put together a plan with actions and timelines. It is, after all, the only way you will be successful long-term.
Most people vow to lose weight, exercise more, and be healthier and although these are worthy goals you should consider, I want you add one more. It’s not glamorous or trendy but it will impact not only you, but your family as well.
As you get older, you must begin the practical aspect of end-of-life planning. You’re right, nobody wants to think about it, talk about it, or plan for it but if you take care of it now your wishes for incapacity and a good death are more likely to be realized. It is important that you make these decisions when you are healthy physically and mentally so you have the end of life choices you want.
I have worked with hundreds of clients who were unsure how to get started and what to include in a solid plan. To make it simple and doable, here are my recommendations for three action items to take care of in the first quarter of 2015:
The Estate Plan and Advance Directives
A document that directs how your property will be passed on at the time of your death. It also designates a person to be responsible for assembling the property, paying debts and taxes, and distributing what is left.
A document that formalizes an individual’s wishes regarding the medical care that is to be used or withheld if he or she becomes incapacitated or unable to make his/her own decisions. Many living wills include provisions for withdrawal of hydration or nutrition in certain situations.
Health Care Surrogate
An individual you select to make medical decisions for you when you are no longer able to make them yourself. Your surrogate will be responsible for communicating your wishes to your doctor.
Durable Power of Attorney
A document that can delegate the authority to make financial decisions on a person’s behalf. Unlike a general power of attorney, a durable power of attorney continues to be effective when a person becomes incapacitated.
Click here for legal forms for designation of health care surrogate and living will. There is no cost.
Talk with your family about yours and their end of life choices and financial asset management.
Although conversations about end-of-life choices are not easy if advance care planning is not done, relationships may become strained for those left to decide about your medical treatments should you become incapacitated. And, your wishes about medical care and asset management will not be carried out-this is the most important goal.
Here are a few questions that will help get the discussion started:
- Who would be most able to provide comfort to you?
- Where do you want to spend the last days of your life?
- What kind(s) of medical care do you want as the end-of-life approaches?
- Are there specific medical procedures that you want to learn more about before making care decisions?
- Are there some procedures you definitely do not want?
- Have you completed any advance directives such as a living will? If so, where is it?
Be organized and have an accessible place where your documents can be located.
I recommend a fire proof safe for all of your documents instead of a safety deposit which is often inaccessible after death without a court order.
Make sure you tell your spouse AND another trusted person the location of your documents including the key or the combination.
Use a notebook to record important end of life instructions, such as:
- Funeral instructions
- Contact list
- Location of all bank accounts, assets, and other financial information; be very careful where you keep this information to protect from identity theft.
Take the first step by starting the discussion with your family. Working together will not only help you complete the rest of the steps, but will bring you closer together so end of life choices are planned ahead of time.