Who speaks for you if you are not able to speak for yourself? Who determines what kind of care you want at the end of life, how your finances are handled, how your estate will be distributed? You do … but only IF you’ve prepared ahead of time. Below, we outline the types of documents that are needed to ensure that your wishes are respected.
The documents are fairly straightforward, yet many people postpone taking action to complete them. It isn’t easy to think about your own incapacity or death. But these important legal and health care decisions not only protect your own interests, they protect your family and loved ones by clarifying the kinds of care you would like to receive if you are seriously ill. After completing the legal paperwork, the next very important step is to sit down and talk with your family about the decisions you’ve made and why.
Advance Health Care Directive (AHCD)
What it does: This gives power to a person you designate to make health care decisions for you, ONLY IF you can’t speak for yourself.
What happens if you don’t have an Advance Health Care Directive?
What is does: Stands for Physicians Orders for Life Sustaining Treatment and replaces DNR (Do Not Resuscitate).
What happens if you don’t have a POLST?
Durable Power of Attorney for Finances
What it does: Allows someone to access your finances, e.g., checking account, investments or property in order to pay your bills.
What happens if you don’t have a Power of Attorney for Finances?
What it does: Says how you want your estate (money and belongings) to be dispersed to family, friends, organizations, etc. after you die.
What happens if you don’t have a will?
What is does: A trust creates a legal entity that holds your assets for you so that your estate does not have to go through probate when you die.
There are many options for trusts for specific purposes, such as:
What happens if you don’t have a trust?
What it does: Specifies what you would like to happen after your death — whether you would like cremation or burial — and lets the family know. Also lets loved ones know your wishes regarding organ donation and other special arrangements.
What happens if you don’t make your wishes known about final arrangements?
Bank accounts, investments, insurance, and retirement plans can be designated as “payable on death” to a named beneficiary, which means the funds don’t have to go through probate.
What happens if you haven’t named a beneficiary for funds “payable on death”?
Where to Find My Important Papers
Have a central place for wills, trusts, powers of attorney, etc., or a document describing where they are so family members will know where to find these items.
What happens if you don’t have a central place?
More Information & Resources
Online listings by geographic area
What to do when a loved one dies
National Association of Area Agencies on Aging
Having the Conversation about Health, Legal, Financial and End-of-Life Issues
American Bar Association (ABA)
Commission on Legal Problems of the Elderly
Washington, DC 20036
Consumer’s Toolkit for Health Care Advance Planning
Compassion & Choices
PO Box 101810
Denver, CO 80250-1810
National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys
1577 Spring Hill Rd., Suite 220
Vienna, VA 22182
National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization
1700 Diagonal Rd. Suite 625
Alexandria, VA 22314
Long-Term Care Options Explored on PBS NewsHour:
- Why home care workers struggle with low wages
- Teens and elders bridge gap and digital divide
- Why more seniors are going back to college — to retire
- Coping with Alzheimer’s: A mother and daughter portrait of long-term care
- Taking cues from ‘Golden Girls,’ more single baby boomers are building a future together
- There’s no place like home: seniors hold on to urban independence into old age
- Foster families find and share support with elders at Oregon housing community
More Helpful Publications from Family Caregiver Alliance:
- Advanced Illness: Holding on and Letting Go
- Downsizing a Home: A Checklist for Caregivers
- Legal Issues for LGBT Caregivers
About Family Caregiver Alliance
Family Caregiver Alliance
National Center on Caregiving
785 Market Street, Suite 750
San Francisco, CA 94103
Family Caregiver Alliance (FCA) offers an extensive online library of free educational materials for caregivers. The publications, webinars and videos offer families the kind of straightforward, practical help they need as they care for relatives with chronic or disabling health conditions.
Family Care Navigator is FCA’s online directory of resources for caregivers in all 50 states. It includes information on government health and disability programs, legal resources, disease-specific organizations and more.