Legal Documents

By Kathy Saul



Accidents, illness and death are all part of life. Yet often they arrive as a surprise and interrupt our lives. You may feel uncomfortable considering a time when you are not able to make your decisions regarding your physical care or finances. Moreover, when thinking along these lines we all know the one thing we can all be sure of in life is we will someday die. Is it is, however, important to think about these uncomfortable situations and to talk to family and friends about our wishes. Everyone has his or her own opinion of medical life support and quality of life just as we have our own views on death.





One of the most important priorities in life is to make a will so your loved ones will be better prepared when your death occurs. Usually a lawyer is needed to assist you with this task as state laws vary. Things to consider in making a will are how you want your property including homes, cars, collections, stocks and bonds distributed and how your finances are to be managed after your death.


As you prepare to meet with your lawyer, consider who you want to carry out the terms of your will. This person will be your executor. Your lawyer will need to know what your assets are, your life insurance policies, any charitable institutions you wish to assist, information on your children, partner etc. Also, once your will is drawn up, remember to update it as your situation changes. For example: anyone you wish to disinherit, if you divorce or remarry, tax law changes etc.


Dying without a will can cause financial hardship on your loved ones such as probate, unnecessary expenses and taxes.





In choosing a power of attorney, you are appointing someone to act on your behalf when you are unable to do so. Select your agent carefully and be as specific as possible with your wording as to what powers are being given and for how long. Some powers include paying bills, selling or buying stock, cashing checks. It is recommended that a lawyer be consulted and that an alternate agent be chosen if for some reason the first agent cannot do the job.





Advance directives, depending on where you live ican also be known as Power of Health or Health Care Proxy. The intent of these documents is to name a person to make your health care decisions if you are unable to make them for yourself. Forms may differ in their contents depending in which state or country you live. The main components include name and address of the agent, name and address of an alternate agent, duration of the proxy as well as any specific decision that you want the person you designate to make such as what type and how much medical treatment you want.


Without a clear statement of your wishes, your doctors may feel obliged to do whatever they can to keep you alive. This can result is the painful prolonging of your life as well as stress on your family and friends.


Your directive, for example, may state when to perform CPR depending on the type of medical condition you have. You may not want extraordinary medical treatment in the face of an irreversible and hopeless situation. However, after a heart attack, you may want life saving CPR or the use of a breathing machine temporarily after surgery as a full recovery is expected. When faced with incurable disease that no longer responds to medical treatment you may prefer care that assures comfort such as pain medicine, fluids and nutrition.


The Health Care Proxy or Power of Health becomes effective only when you become unable to make decisions, as determined by a physician. Until then, you continue to be in charge of making your own health care decisions. It can be revoked orally, and you always have the right while competent to sign a new health care proxy.


Your desires should be discussed with your family and your doctor along with written copies of your wishes. Advance directives should be re-evaluated after a serious illness.


**** Legal documents vary from state to state and country to country. To be sure, you are following local laws please contact a lawyer when making your arrangements.





The Power of Attorney is whom you designate to make financial decisions for you and it cannot be used to make health care decisions on your behalf. You must complete a Health Care Proxy, Advance Directive or Power of Health in order to have an agent make health care decisions when you are not able.





A health care proxy is similar to a living will in that each serves the same purpose of allowing you to make decisions in advance about your health care. A living will is a document that you sign in advance in which you specifically set forth your decisions about health care treatment. Unlike the health care proxy, power of health or advance directive, it does not authorize you to appoint an agent to make decisions on your behalf when you are incapacitated.


**** Legal documents vary from state to state and country to country. To be sure, you are following local laws please contact a lawyer when making your arrangements.





Organize all documentation of your insurance policies and survivor benefits such as Social Security, Veteranís benefits and pensions including contact names, account numbers and phone numbers. If you have a safe deposit box state the location and where the key is kept. You may want to consider adding a family member to the list of who can open your safe deposit box. For example, if you are older, you may want to add a child.





What do you want your obituary to say about you? Do you prefer a memorial service? Do you want cremation, burial or wish to donate your body to medical science? If you have specific preferences such as music or who should officiate put your desires in writing.


It is a good idea to carry on your person and in your glove compartment information regarding your health. This should include any special condition you have as well as medication you are taking, the name of your personnel physician, medical insurance information and names and contact numbers of people to notify on your behalf.



None of us can forecast how much time we have remaining so it is wise to be aware that accidents, illness and death may occur at any time. It is both wise and loving to make preparations so that loved ones have an easier time dealing with lifeís details during illness, accidents and death.



Kathy is a Chat Host for The Stroke Network.


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