Five doc­u­ments you need as you age


As an “el­der law” at­tor­ney, I help peo­ple pro­tect them­selves, and their loved ones, from the curve­balls that life throws us as we age, get sick, or be­come in­ca­pac­i­tated.

“El­der Law” is a slight mis­nomer, while most of my clients are over 65, a few even over 100, we help any­one who is over 18 years old be­cause life events can come at any age. Many of the fam­i­lies that I work with weren’t even aware this type of plan­ning was avail­able be­fore they found out how nec­es­sary it is. Of­ten, I am asked, “Why haven’t I heard of this be­fore?” Un­for­tu­nately, most peo­ple don’t know what they should, or even could, do to pro­tect them­selves, and their ag­ing loved ones, and just don’t want to think about how scary some of the re­al­i­ties are, like of the peo­ple that reach 65 years old nearly 70 per­cent will need long-term care be­fore they die. For per­spec­tive, al­most ev­ery­one has heard of a will, but nearly 60 per­cent of adults in the U.S. don’t have one. In­clud­ing a will, there are five le­gal doc­u­ments that help pro­vide peace of mind that you have done the plan­ning nec­es­sary to pro­tect your­self and your loved ones as you age.

One of the most im­por­tant le­gal doc­u­ments that you can have dur­ing your life­time is a Durable Fi­nan­cial Power of At­tor­ney. A DPOA al­lows for you to grant some­one, your agent, the au­thor­ity to act on your be­half in mat­ters that in­volve con­tracts, like your util­i­ties, or fi­nances, like your bank ac­counts and in­vest­ments. Many cou­ples be­lieve all of their ac­counts are joint but for­get that be­ing a ben­e­fi­ciary on an ac­count, es­pe­cially some­thing like an IRA or other qual­i­fied funds, doesn’t al­low your spouse to ac­cess the money for you if you be­come un­able to do so. An added ben­e­fit of the DPOA is it can also al­low for li­a­bil­ity pro­tec­tion for the agent while they act on your be­half, so some­one like your spouse or child doesn’t end up be­ing li­able for your hos­pi­tal bills when you can’t sign forms your­self.

The abil­ity to make choices over our body is one right that all of us hold very dearly. Los­ing au­ton­omy is one of our great­est fears as we grow older. An Ad­vanced Di­rec­tive for Health­care al­lows us to nom­i­nate some­one that we love and un­der­stands our wants and pref­er­ences to make med­i­cal de­ci­sions, if we are no longer able to com­mu­ni­cate our wishes our­selves. There is some con­fu­sion about this le­gal doc­u­ment be­cause many times se­niors are afraid that if they ex­e­cute an ad­vanced di­rec­tive their chil­dren can “put them in a home,” that is far from the truth. While you are able to make your own de­ci­sions, this doc­u­ment doesn’t trans­fer the au­thor­ity away from you to do so.

Many of us al­ready have this doc­u­ment in place and don’t re­al­ize it, it is in­cluded in the big stack of forms we get when we go to a new doc­tor. Un­for­tu­nately, most of us don’t fill it out fully, we need to put a com­plete list of the peo­ple we want to have ac­cess to view our med­i­cal records and speak with our doc­tors. A uni­ver­sal one also al­lows for you to use it out­side of your cur­rent doc­tor net­work with­out has­sle. With doc­tors get­ting busier and busier some­times we feel like they use the lack of this doc­u­ment to push off hav­ing to speak with our fam­ily mem­bers that are try­ing to help us bet­ter un­der­stand our prog­no­sis, hav­ing a re­lease of med­i­cal in­for­ma­tion doc­u­ment lets us move pass that hur­dle to help our loved ones.

There is con­fu­sion about a liv­ing will and a Do Not Re­sus­ci­tate or­der. A liv­ing will al­lows you to make the de­ci­sion in ad­vance, to take the bur­den off of a loved one or court hav­ing to make the de­ci­sion for you later, about your choice to have life sus­tain­ing treat­ment (feed­ing tube, vent tube, ar­ti­fi­cial lung, etc.) con­tinue if you be­come med­i­cally ill to the point it is ir­re­versible and ter­mi­nal. A DNR is dif­fer­ent, it is a pre­scrip­tive or­der from your physi­cian that states that you don’t want to be re­sus­ci­tated if you have a ma­jor health event, and this pre­vents things like CPR and de­fib­ril­la­tor pad­dles be­ing used to restart your heart.

A Last Will, helps you des­ig­nate where your be­long­ings and as­sets will be dis­trib­uted when you die. Most peo­ple mis­un­der­stand that a will skips pro­bate court, this is not cor­rect, you can­not just walk into the bank or your par­ent’s fi­nan­cial ad­viser af­ter their pass­ing and get your in­her­i­tance. Even with a will the pro­bate process is still re­quired to de­ter­mine where sin­gu­larly ti­tled as­sets with­out a ben­e­fi­ciary des­ig­na­tion will go.

Bonus: A prop­erly funded trust agree­ment — Many peo­ple have a de­sire to avoid pro­bate to add some sim­plic­ity and ease to the process of trans­fer­ring as­sets when they die. Pro­bate is not a hard process as long as ev­ery­one agrees and co­op­er­ates, but it is still ex­tra stress dur­ing an al­ready stress­ful time when you are griev­ing. Ad­di­tion­ally, cer­tain types of trusts can help shield as­sets from long term care costs so that there is more left over to pass on your legacy.

I hope these tips help you pro­tect your­self and the ones you love!

Cindy Nel­son is an at­tor­ney with Nel­son El­der Care Law, LLC in Wood­stock. She spe­cial­izes in

ad­vo­cacy for se­niors.


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