In the musical “Annie”, there is that classic song with the lyrics, “Tomorrow, tomorrow, there’s always tomorrow, you’re only a day away..” The younger we are, the more we believe that our tomorrows are endless and probably merely improvements on today. As we contemplate our future, we are full of hope, enthusiasm and great plans for all that life has in store for us. Often in this type of contemplation, we don’t want to think about the realities of life, the nitty-gritty ‘what ifs’ about living; illness, dying, aging, handicaps, health issues, caring for elderly parents and hardships. But, life can deal any or all of these to without warning. Being prepared is our only true defense! Here, then, are a dozen things we all should do to prepare for anything that ‘tomorrow’ might bring, for we all know that ‘tomorrow is only a day away…’!
1. Have you granted trusted relatives the right to discuss your medical care with your physician or other medical personnel? Federal and state laws make it illegal for medical personnel to discuss your care with anyone unless you have given permission for them to do so. This is good, but could be a problem should, say your loving daughter believes you are exhibiting the signs of a stroke. If daughter calls your doctor, the doctor, legally shouldn’t discuss her with you. My Mother & I discovered this when she passed out and then was less-than-fully-functioning for a while. Her doctor had her write a letter listing those she authorized to talk to him and their contact information. The letter also gives the doctor the right to call one of us if he believes there is something we need to be aware of. This also applies to your children over the age of 18 (16 for some matters), so have them execute such an authorization before going off to college. You might want to consider granting someone a medical power of attorney. This is often part of a living trust and some wills. This gives an individual the right to make medical decisions for you in case you are incapable of doing so for yourself.
2. Have you recently checked your will or trust? A living trust greatly can reduce the process should you become incapacitated or pass away. Consider changing from a will to a trust. The trust can divide your assets as you see fit and protect you in case you are incapacitated. Periodically review the terms and see if they fit your current circumstances and wishes.
3. Do you have an Advanced Directive? This document details your wishes should you be terminally ill or if you need to be resuscitated. Your doctor, hospital or attorney can provide you with the simple form.
4. Consult an estate attorney before you add anyone’s name to any your real or personal property. Some families attempt to circumvent probate this way, but it can leave all parties open to all sorts of liability and tax issues. It may be better to form a ‘Limited Liability Corporation” if non-spousal relatives wish to own property jointly. Each state’s laws differ so be certain to contact an attorney.
5. Do you have someone you can trust to help you review your financial situation? Who will take care of your finances if you are incapacitated? Again, a trust with two executors can be a great thing.
6. Do you have your financial and insurance information in one place that someone knows about? A simple three ring binder can work. As you pay bills for insurance, etc. or receive statements, simply put one copy of each form in your notebook. You might want to add any charge accounts you have, especially those that have credit life. You don’t have to replace the copies as you receive your statements–just add any new ones you open. Photocopy the deed to your house, your car registration and any other document and put those copies in your notebook. Now, add contact information for those you would need to contact in an emergency. It wouldn’t hurt to give a copy of this to your executor. It is a great back up in case you have an emergency or lose your home.
7. Put passwords on all of your accounts—bank, credit union, credit cards, etc. Don’t open an account where they won’t let you use a password. The password will protect you from someone else changing the information on your account. This is a simple and yet effective way to prevent someone stealing your credit! If you think you won’t remember the password, chose a word and write a sentence about it in your address book. For instance, if your password were “Mercedes”, write down, “My first car was a Mercedes”. That will help you remember.
8. Do you have copies of your birth certificate, marriage license, service records, car registration, divorce decree, passport–all those pesky life documents we need? Put them with your account notebook or notate in the book where you keep them.
9. Write down your wishes for your “Final Farewell”. If we don’t speak our minds, those we love won’t know what we want and may spend more time or money than we would have wanted “Paying tribute to us.” Family feuds are often started over, “What Mother would have wanted.” For instance, I would rather my children go on a lovely cruise than spend $25,000 on a casket for me. (Did you know you could order discounted caskets online now??? Not legal in all states, but in many. For instance, you can order a traditional, tasteful, handmade casket produced by monks for as low as $695.) Shopping ahead of time is much, much better than buying prepaid funeral plans. Research burial options and decide ahead of time.
10. Be very, very, very, very cautious of anyone offering to sell you insurance, prepaid funeral plans, financial management, etc, etc. Have a trusted friend or relative who will talk through the many offers you might receive before you make a decision. Never enter into a long-term contract without taking at least 72 hours to think about it. The same is true of investments and other major purchases. Trusted, reputable institutions will never pressure you or use scare tactics.
11. If you are married, are you a full partner in knowing everything there is to know about your financial situation, the insurance you have, liabilities, etc.? If you aren’t, you should be!
12. Is your home safe for you? Before you fall, have grab bars installed in your bathroom. If you need them other places, have them installed now. Check for tripping hazards. Have a phone that does not rely on electricity. If you think you might require assisted living, start shopping early. Choose one that will accept Medicare in case you outlast your resources.
And one bonus:
13. Decide at the beginning of each year which charities you wish to support. Decide how much you can reasonably afford and then donate it. Throw ALL OTHER letters from charities into the trash BEFORE you open them. You can also decide every quarter or twice a year.