Getting Your Affairs In Order

Getting Your Affairs In Order

In a recent post, I reported on Dr. James Firman’s keynote address at the Positive Aging Conference.  One of his Seven Keys to a Brighter Future included taking responsibility for managing ourselves as we age – our health, our lives and our affairs.  This included having our paperwork in order and telling people what we want when we can no longer manage on our own.  This week the National Institute on Aging, a division of the NIH, issued a very good article on Getting Your Affairs in Order. A link to that article is included at the end of this blog.  While many people have the basics – a will, power of attorney and health care proxy, they don’t go far enough.  I am amazed at the number of people who don’t even have the basics, or who have not updated them for a long time.  Family circumstances change and your preferences may change as well, so you need to keep these documents current.

Key points that the NIH article makes:

  • Put your important papers and copies of legal documents in one place. You can set up a file, put everything in a desk or dresser drawer, or 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 permission 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.

I would add to the first point that if your papers are in a bank safe box, your executor will have to provide a death certificate, and possibly other identification in order to access the box.  Key papers need to be readily accessible, because getting proper documentation may take time.  My lawyer recommended that the original of my will be kept in her office so there is no question about its location and authenticity.

Also, there is a difference between the health care power of attorney which names the person to make health care decisions for you when you are no longer able to make them, and a living will says what you want and don’t want in the way of care. You need both documents. The names of these documents may differ in your state.

Another point:  Some financial institutions will not recognize your power of attorney, or will only recognize recently executed documents.  They have their own PofA form that needs to be completed and signed.  Check with your bank or brokerage house to see what their policy is.  If your PofA is not recognized, he or she will not be able to withdraw funds from your account to pay for your care.

It is not easy to confront these issues related to disability and death, but it is essential if you want your wishes to be known and followed.  You will also make it a lot easier for your power of attorney or executor to manage your affairs.  I urge you to read the NIH article at the link listed below.  There is a lot of information there and links to additional resources. You can also sign up to get regular emails from them.


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