As you age, making sure you have access to essential legal documents that protect your rights and interests becomes increasingly necessary. These documents are critical, especially when decisions need to be made in areas like health care, finances, and end-of-life planning. Drafting these documents when you’re in good health and of sound mind is crucial so that you’ll have peace of mind and won’t have to make a key decision when you aren’t feeling your best.
Here is the range of documents you will need in place as you get older.
1. Personal Identification Documents
Personal identification documents are generally required for residency in a senior living center, hospitalizations, or other legal transactions. Here are the documents you should keep in a safe but accessible place:
- Driver’s License or Passport
- Social Security Card
- Medicare Cards
- Health Insurance Cards
- Marriage and Divorce Records
- Military Records
2. Advance Planning Documents
Not having the proper legal documents for medical care can make a health crisis worse. Your loved ones may be put in an uncomfortable position to make healthcare decisions based on their best guess instead of being able to make a decision you may have wanted. Here are essential documents for advance planning:
- Medical Power of Attorney. This document authorizes a trusted person to make decisions regarding your medical care if you cannot.
- Advanced Directive. This set of documents that includes a living will instruct medical health professionals to continue or withhold life-saving treatments for terminal or irreversible conditions.
- Authorization to Release Medical Records. Physicians can release medical information to your loved ones, but you have to sign a written consent allowing authorization for medical professionals to discuss these issues.
- Do Not Resuscitate Order (DNR). This signed document indicates to medical professionals that you do not want lifesaving treatments like CPR, a ventilator, or breathing tubes.
- Tissue or Organ Donation. If you want your tissue or organs to be donated after passing, you can indicate this preference on your driver’s license. You’ll need to register with the state as an organ donor or sign a document letting your family members know you’d like your organs donated.
3. Estate Planning Documents
Ensuring your estate planning is in order and the documents are handy will give you peace of mind. More importantly, it will help your loved ones deal with their grief without worrying about how your heirlooms and other assets will be distributed. These are the most common estate planning documents:
- Last Will and Testament. A last will specifies who should possess your assets upon passing. This will include individuals as well as any charities. This document can also address financial matters as well as different accounts.
- Trust. A trust allows you to distribute assets through an executor. It is similar to a will, but it is not required to be filed with the probate court, and there could be potential tax benefits that aren’t present in a will.
- Financial Power of Attorney. This legal document authorizes a trusted person to act on your behalf to manage your financial matters should you be unable to do so.
- Digital Asset/Account Management. Although this isn’t technically a legal document, ensure you extend online access to your heirs or alternatively appoint a person through your will to be an executor for your digital assets.
4. Health Care Coverage and Insurance
Paying for medical care can be expensive, but you can avoid hassle and headaches later if your medical coverage is current and documents are accessible. These are the common healthcare coverage and insurance documentation you need:
- Medicare. If you qualify for Medicare, have your card handy and familiarize yourself with all the requirements to meet so you receive maximum coverage.
- Supplemental Insurance. If there are additional policies you’ve added, make certain you or your loved ones have access to proof of coverage and can inform hospital and medical administrators of your eligibility for coverage.
- Long-Term Care Insurance. Elder care may require some long-term care at a hospital or a facility. Your long-term care insurance policy will entitle you to coverage of some associated costs.
- Life Insurance Policies. A trusted family member or appointed representative should know about life insurance policies or other policies with beneficiaries. Insurance companies can then be notified of your passing, and funds can be appropriately distributed.
- Prescription Plans. Medicare has various prescription plans based on your needs. Make certain your card is accessible so that these costs are covered.
5. End of Life of Planning Documents
End-of-life documents are important, especially to your loved ones. They can ensure your wishes are carried out for your funeral or cremation. Some documents that can be helpful but aren’t necessarily legal paperwork are:
- Funeral Arrangements. List your wishes regarding funeral preparations and burial instructions. You can be as detailed as possible.
- Funeral Costs. If you’ve prepaid your funeral costs, ensure you’ve let a trusted person know this information and the location of that document after your passing.
Review your Documents Periodically
Many of these documents will require updates if a major life change occurs, like a marriage, divorce, or other life events. Revisit these documents with an estate planning attorney or financial planner to ensure your documents address your current needs.
This article is intended for general informational and educational purposes only, and should not be construed as financial or tax advice. For more information about whether a reverse mortgage may be right for you, you should consult an independent financial advisor. For tax advice, please consult a tax professional.