We all know it’s hard to predict when a medical emergency will occur, what kind of emergency it will be, and how severely it will affect your life. The reality is that medical emergencies happen very often, sometimes with little to no warning. Without planning ahead, emotional and financial stress can get the best of your loved ones. Proper planning can help ease this stress through making your wishes known, setting up a plan for the necessary costs associated with an emergency (including long-term care), and taking steps to allow your family and friends to know that the decisions they make on your behalf are those you would have wanted.
Consider these stories:
- Mark and Elizabeth have been married for 52 years, but Mark is suddenly unable to walk or talk after suffering from a stroke. Since Mark always handled the couple’s money and paid the bills, Elizabeth has found herself in a difficult situation. The financial responsibilities have fallen on Elizabeth, and she feels overwhelmed—not only is she worried for her husband, but she must also figure out how to manage bills on her own.
- Susan, a 77-year-old woman, lives alone. After falling in the kitchen and breaking her hip, she stayed in the hospital for a week and then spent two months in a rehabilitation nursing home. Years prior to this event, Susan and her son developed a plan in case of a medical emergency. As a result, her son was informed about how to pay her bills and answer her financial questions. Even though he lives several hundred miles away, he was able to help his mother efficiently.
Make Plans for the Future
It’s impossible to anticipate a medical emergency, but making plans in case of an emergency can help make a stressful situation more manageable for your loved ones.
Here are some steps to take when planning for the future and getting your affairs in order:
Keep your important papers and copies of legal documents in one place. Preparing a file or a drawer can be a good solution, or you can list the locations of your documents in a notebook. If you choose to store your papers in a safe deposit box in a bank, make a copy of each document to keep at home. At least once a year, make sure you’ve added any new documents to the rest of your papers.
Share the location of your documents with someone you can trust. This doesn’t mean you have to tell the person about your private information, but letting someone know where you keep your papers will be very important in case of an emergency. Ask a lawyer to help if you don’t have a friend or relative you can trust with this information.
Give consent in advance for your doctor or lawyer to share information with your caregiver when necessary. In the future, your caregiver may have questions about your care, a bill, or an insurance claim, which he or she may not have access to unless you’ve given consent. You can do this in advance by contacting Medicare, your credit card company, your bank, or your doctor to set up plans and give proper consent. Signing and returning a form may be necessary.
Many types of documents have been created to help you set up plans so that others are able to efficiently handle your affairs in the future. Since laws may vary by state, you should find out about the specific rules, forms, and requirements associated with these types of documents in your state. Here are some of the types of documents you may want to become familiar with:
- Wills and trusts allow you to legally set aside money, possessions, and property to a person or people of your choosing so that you can specify which possessions go to whom after you pass away.
- Advance directives are set up so that you can make decisions about your care if you become ill. These are available in two forms:
- Living wills allow you to make arrangements for the types of care you would like to receive if you become too ill to express your wishes. This can be very helpful for your loved ones; they will find it easier to make difficult decisions about your health care if they know your specific preferences.
- A durable power of attorney for health care allows you to name someone who will be in charge of your medical decisions if you become unable to express your medical preferences. It’s important to make sure that the person you name is willing and emotionally able to be in charge of these decisions.
For legal rather than medical matters, you can name someone to be in charge of your decisions in one of two ways:
- With a durable power of attorney, you can name someone to have the power to act for you in any legal task. This remains in place if you become unable to express your preferences.
- With a general power of attorney, you can give someone the power to act on your behalf, but this power will not be valid if you become unable to express your own decisions.
How To Decide Which Documents Are Important
Deciding which papers and documents will be useful in case of an emergency can differ for each person. The list that follows should serve as a guideline for you to start thinking about the types of documents that may be important for you and your family. For example, though you won’t see anything about pets on this list, it may be important to store information about your pet (including the phone number and address of its veterinarian) with your documents.
- Your Personal Records
- birthplace and birth date
- education and military records
- names of employers and dates of employment
- full legal name
- legal residence
- location of living will
- location(s) of birth, death, marriage, divorce, and citizenship, and adoption certificates
- prescribed medications and other regularly taken vitamins, medications, and supplements
- group memberships and awards received
- names and phone numbers of close friends, spouse, children, relatives, attorney, financial advisor, doctors, and religious contacts
- Social Security number
- Financial Records
- copy of most recent tax return
- credit and debit card names and numbers
- insurance information (life, health, long-term care, home, car) with policy numbers and agents’ names and phone numbers
- investment income (stocks, bonds, property) and stockbrokers’ names and phone numbers
- liabilities, including property tax (what is owed, to whom, when payments are due)
- location of most recently updated will with an original signature
- location of original deed of trust for home and car title and registration
- location of safe deposit box and key
- mortgages and debts (when and how they’re paid)
- names of your bank(s) and account number(s) (checking, savings, credit union)
- Social Security and Medicare information
- sources of income and assets (retirement funds, IRAs, 401(k)s, interest, etc.)
To set up a general or durable power of attorney, joint account, trust, or advance directive, set up an appointment to talk to your lawyer. It’s a good idea to ask about fees before you make an appointment, and you may feel more comfortable asking an informed family member or friend to help you through the process.