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Planning for Practicalities: 4 Plans Seniors Need to Make Before They Pass

Senior woman in glasses and a pink shirt reviewing documents

By Anita Ginsburg

Planning for death may seem morbid and unnecessary, especially since you won’t be there to see the plans carried out. However, careful preparation can make the end of your life easier and less painful for your loved one by sparing them difficult decisions. Exactly what you need to do depends on the complexity of your estate and other factors, but here are four plans every senior should make before you pass.

Will

If you have any money, property, pets, or underage children, making a will is essential. Otherwise, the state will decide what happens to your estate and who will be given responsibility for your children and pets. In the will, you name an executor who carries out your wishes. However, if you’ve named beneficiaries on bank accounts, retirement accounts, insurance policies, annuities, or other instruments, those instructions usually override your will, no matter which was made first. To prevent confusion or problems, though, make sure your will and beneficiaries on your accounts match up.

Durable Power of Attorney

A durable power of attorney can be prepared by a will and trust law attorney and appoints someone to act as your agent for personal and financial affairs if you can’t do these things yourself.  If it does not include the word “durable,” it may not continue if you become permanently unable to communicate. Even if you become permanently incapacitated, a durable power of attorney allows the person you appoint to pay your bills and handle other decisions. A will and trust law attorney may suggest you appoint the same person who will be the executor of your will since this power of attorney does not end when you die.

Medical Power of Attorney

Also called a healthcare power of attorney, this legal document appoints someone to make medical care decisions for you when you’re in a coma, heavily sedated, or otherwise unable to make them for yourself. These decisions may include whether you have surgery and what medications you’re given. A medical power of attorney continues in effect for the rest of your life if you can no longer communicate.

Living Will

A living will, also called a healthcare directive or advance directive, specifies your end-of-life medical care if you’re unable to speak for yourself. If you don’t have this document, doctors and family members may have to guess at what you would want, which can lead to disputes or even legal action if they don’t agree. This document should address pain relief, tube feeding, ventilation, life support, organ donation, and other considerations.

A will and trust law attorney can help guide you through creating and organizing these documents. Because they have experience with these types of documents, they can help you figure out which plans you most need to make and what assets and other considerations you need to take into account. Finally, they can help ensure that everything is created and filed correctly so that they’re easy to refer to if and when they become necessary.

Whether you believe the end of your life is imminent or you simply want to be prepared for the inevitable, having these four documents in place can give you peace of mind. Addressing these practicalities means your wishes can be honored and most disputes among your loved ones can be avoided.

Anita is a freelance writer from Denver, CO. She studied at Colorado State University, and now writes articles about health, business, family and finance. A mother of two, she enjoys traveling with her family whenever she isn’t writing. You can follow her on Twitter @anitaginsburg.

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