Are you a senior?
Have you had “that conversation?”
Yes, “that conversation,” the one that you should have with someone who is, or perhaps several people who are, near and dear to you and younger than you.
Yes, “that conversation,” about personal and intimate details of your life.
Yes, “that conversation,” which can be difficult and uncomfortable.
But “that conversation” about you, your assets, income, debts, personal and real property, about what to do if you cannot make decisions and what makes up your day to day affairs, as well as the remainder of what will hopefully be your long and healthy life, is one you need to have.
By way of example, as my mother aged, she was fully of sound mind but had her physical ailments. One day, somewhat out of the blue, she called and said, with what sounded like some urgency, can you come to my home in a few weeks? I said sure. When I arrived, she had displayed for me some of the documents that will be discussed in this article. While it was seemingly spur of the moment, I knew as an attorney that it was necessary. When the time came, dealing with her estate, her assets, creditors, property, stocks, bonds, even her car was so much easier. Still difficult, yes, but easier than it would have been had we not had the conversation.
Documents Every Senior Should Have
Do you have a will? There is no good reason not to! When written well, it says what you no longer can. If you have the original, do not take it apart. Keep it is in a safe place, but not in a safe deposit box. It needs to be accessed at the proper time, not at a time controlled by third parties.
A simple list might be next. Take a piece of paper and write down your assets . . . all of them. Start with bank accounts. You might have brokerage accounts; list those as well. Anything else that you own, such as land somewhere upstate or that life insurance policy that is still in place or some shares of stock, should be part of this list. Is there a 401[k] or are you perhaps collecting money from when you lent it to a friend? If it has any value, it should be on this list. For insurance policies, you should include the name of the carrier and policy numbers. In fact you should include account or policy numbers for as many items on the list as you can.
A Power of Attorney is also an important document, as it gives the person of your choosing authority to spend your money and sell or dispose of your property during your lifetime without telling you. You do not lose your authority to act even though you have given your agent similar authority. When your agent exercises this authority, he or she must act according to any instructions you have provided or, where there are no specific instructions, in your best interest. This document is meant to have someone in place to assist you with your daily living once you are no longer able to perform those tasks on your own.
But the agent designated as your Power of Attorney cannot make health care decisions for you. What if you become ill to the point where you cannot make your own health care decisions? A health care proxy and living will are documents used to discuss issues related to your health and help make those critical decisions ahead of time, or designate the person to make those decisions if you cannot. Ask about the Probate process. If you have ideas about how you should be treated by the health care community when you can no longer say so, this document is crucial. It will set forth your wishes and designate who can tell the doctors and health care providers what to do if you are not able to do so for yourself. It can also advise what not to do. Don’t forget: whoever is designated on the proxy should/must have the proxy. Keeping it from them does you no good.
Your Medicare information and any and all other health care information should be maintained with the health care proxy and living will. Copies of the cards are essential. If this information is not provided at the time you need health care because you are not able to provide it, dealing with medical bills afterward can be a nightmare.
Do you own your residence? If so, do you have the deed? Do you owe money on a mortgage? Is anyone else on the deed? This is the time to talk about where you live and what will happen.
If you have “that conversation” it can often serve to focus the mind on the here and now, and help to organize all aspects of your life.
This is not intended to be legal advice. You should contact an attorney for advice regarding your specific situation.
Robert M. Lefland is Senior Counsel and primary attorney in charge of Personal Injury at J&G. He can be reached by calling 866.303.9595 toll free or 845.764.9656 and by email . He is available by appointment on Saturday’s. If you need his immediate attention, you can reach him on cell.