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The Personal Records You Need to Keep

We don’t like to think about suddenly becoming seriously sick or disabled. Yet it’s extremely helpful to review what you and others need to know if that happens. To have your “affairs in order” will help your family and caregivers as well as you yourself. The federal National Institute on Aging has a list that will help you and other family members be prepared for a sudden crisis. (And if you are caregiving yourself for a family member, it might be a good idea to tactfully bring up this subject.)

Put your important papers and copies of legal documents in one place. You could set up a file, put everything in a desk or dresser drawer, or just list the information and location of papers in a notebook. If your papers are in a bank safe deposit box, keep copies in a file at home. Check each year to see if there's anything new to add.

Tell a trusted family member or friend where you put all your important papers. You don't need to tell this friend or family member about your personal affairs, but someone should know where you keep your papers in case of an emergency. If you don't have a relative or friend you trust, ask a lawyer to help.

Give consent in advance for your doctor or lawyer to talk with your caregiver as needed. There may be questions about your care, a bill, or a health insurance claim. Without your consent, your caregiver may not be able to get needed information. You can give your okay in advance to Medicare, a credit card company, your bank, or your doctor. You may need to sign and return a form.

Legal Documents

There are many different types of legal documents that can help you plan how your affairs will be handled in the future. Many of these documents have names that sound alike, so make sure you are getting the documents you want. Also, state laws do vary, so find out about the rules, requirements, and forms used in your State.

Wills and trusts let you name the person you want your money and property to go to after you die.

Advance directives let you make arrangements for your care if you become sick. There are two ways to do this:

A living will gives you a say in your health care if you are too sick to make your wishes known. You can state what kind of care you do or don't want. This can make it easier for family members to make tough healthcare decisions for you.

A durable power of attorney for health care lets you name the person you want to make medical decisions for you if you can't make them yourself. Make sure the person you name is willing to make those decisions for you.

For legal matters, there are two ways to give someone you trust the power to act in your place:

A general power of attorney lets you give someone else the authority to act on your behalf, but this power will end if you are unable to make your own decisions.

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