While nobody likes to think about dying, it is ultimately hard to prevent. Even non-death but incapacitating events require some thought to avoid things not going the way you prefer when others make decisions for you.
Here is a checklist of things you can do to give you some peace of mind as you age and may rely on family or friends to respect your wishes.
Arrange for a friend or family member to act as your agent to make health decisions in a situation where you cannot. This is handled by a Healthcare Power of Attorney to officially designate this person to speak for you in health matters. Additionally, you should record in writing your specific wishes to guide your agent. This would include typical questions such as whether you want to be resuscitated in a medical emergency. And, beyond the paperwork, it is a good idea to talk to your family about your wishes.
Financial Power of Attorney.
Separate from your Healthcare Power of Attorney, you need someone to speak for you in financial matters should you become incapacitated. You may already have a financial advisor. If so, make sure he or she is introduced to the person you have named as your Financial POA.
In this document you will designate an Executor and Substitute Executor to carry out your wishes. You should create a written inventory of your important possessions and specify who should get what. This greatly simplifies the work of the Executor.
Revocable Living Trust.
A revocable living trust is a document that allows you to put your assets into a trust and select a trustee to manage the assets for your benefit (and that of your beneficiaries). A revocable living trust is often used in estate planning to avoid probate court, protect your privacy and plan for incapacity. The trust document and its contents are not public records unlike a will that goes through probate. It is “revocable” because you can terminate it or change it at any time that you are mentally competent. It does, however, not offer tax or creditor protection.
Review your retirement accounts (401-K, IRA) and your life insurance policies to make sure you have indicated a designee you currently wish to receive the value of these accounts upon your demise.
Assemble all of your identifying documents including your birth certificate, Social Security card, Military Discharge documents, Marriage licenses and Divorce decrees.
Assemble life insurance, homeowners or renters insurance, auto, health, prescription, dental and car insurance documents. Additionally, make a list of all of your financial accounts, the names of your advisors plus the account numbers and passwords.
Deeds and Titles.
Accumulate and review deeds to your properties and titles to your cars, boats, airplanes and similar assets. Also, if you have a Living Trust, confirm that each of these are titled in the name of the Trust.
Funeral and Burial Plans.
Discuss your preferences for funeral and burial plans with the Executor of your estate and your family and faith leader. Make a written record of your wishes and include it with your important papers or will.
Gaining access to your online accounts can be a challenge for those left behind. Consider a password manager the master password for which you should share with your Executor. Include every online account you have such as email, social media and various applications. Also, provide password access to your telephone.
Each of these topics could be expanded into a full article (and several have in previous editions of this blog). This checklist will provide a roadmap that you may use for a guide to speak with your family and advisors.