Aging can be difficult, and at some point, many of us will need some help taking care of our own affairs. When that time comes, it is critical to have the appropriate documents in place giving a trusted family member or friend the authority to help. Unfortunately, many of us also neglect to create those documents, for ourselves and our aging parents. My wife and I have been struggling with aging parents, and it has been a difficult and emotional time. Still, we are so thankful that they thought ahead and put the appropriate paperwork in place so that we can help. Here are 5 documents that we have found invaluable through the process.
1.Advanced Healthcare Directive
An advanced healthcare directive or medical directive outlines what kind of care your loved ones want to receive if they become ill or incapacitated. Health care decisions can be incredibly difficult, and having clear direction in advance can relieve the pressure, guilt, and family conflict that can result from those decisions.
2.A Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare and HIPAA release
A Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare and HIPAA release allows you to make healthcare decisions and obtain access to healthcare records. Without these critical documents, doctors will not talk with you about your loved one’s health. For example, my wife has often acted as an advocate for her parents, pushing for them to get the care they needed. Without these documents she would have no power to speak on their behalf.
3. A Durable Power of Attorney for Finances
A Durable Power of Attorney for finances allows you to manage your loved one’s financial affairs, including paying bills, and working with banks, brokers, Social Security, and pension plans. While this does require a significant amount of trust, these documents have proved invaluable for us so that we can make sure that the finances stay under control as my wife’s parents began to become confused about their finances.
4. A Revocable Living Trust
Most of us have heard about the importance of a living trust. Often people think about a trust as an estate planning document that designates who will receive the assets upon death, and it is true that a trust handles this situation well. Upon death a trust can designate a trusted person (a trustee) to distribute the assets in the trust to the named individuals. However, a trust can also be an important document during life. For example, most living trusts allow your loved ones to handle their own affairs while they are able, and also provide for a trustee to step in in the event of incapacity, usually based on the diagnosis of a doctor. In the event of incapacity, a trust can then specify who is responsible, and can dictate how the funds can be used, usually specifying that the trust funds must be used for the creators (grantors) while they are still alive.
5. A Will
Even those with a trust should also have a will. This is a fundamental document that specifies what will happen to your loved one’s assets upon their death. Those with a trust will often simply have a ‘pour over’ will that places all assets in the trust upon their death.
A good estate planning attorney should be able to walk you through each of these documents, and often all are created as part of the estate planning process. If you or your loved ones don’t have their documents in order, I encourage you to have the difficult conversations and visit with an estate planning attorney to get everything in place. It can make a very difficult situation a little easier.