An Easy New Years Resolution
Now that it's less than a week after the start of the New Year, we all might have fudged a bit on those earnest promises to ourselves. I sort of missed the full set of exercises I vowed to do each morning, but I had a good reason. Really.
Here is one easy resolution that is easy to keep, and is really, really good for you. "I promise to get my basic legal affairs in order." That's not hard. All it takes is a phone call for an appointment with your attorney. For almost everyone, that means one meeting to review your family situation, and one meeting to sign documents. You don't have to do it every day, or every week, or even once a month. Unless personal circumstances change, once is enough.
The documents everyone needs are a will, a power of attorney, a living will with designation of health care representative , and a HIPAA release so medical people will talk with your family. A living trust may be advisable in some circumstances.
Here are the excuses people make:
- "My wife and I only have a house with a mortgage and very little money so we don't need a will" Wrong. Young couples with minor children especially need wills so that they can decide who will raise those kids as their guardian if the terrible circumstance arises where both should die. The same goes for who will handle the money for the children. Don't forget that life insurance will cause those assets to add up. Other reasons for the will are to name the executor who you want to handle your estate, and to provide for contingencies if you outlive your primary beneficiary.
- "I don't need a power of attorney now. I'll do it when I'm older." Wrong, unless you have a crystal ball. Once a debilitating event occurs, and you are not capable of signing, it is too late. There is no such thing as too early, but there is most assuredly a too late. The power of attorney allows your spouse or your child or other trusted person to handle your legal and financial affairs if you cannot. This is most important between elderly spouses, because if one becomes sick and needs significant care, the power of attorney is the document that will allow the healthy spouse to move assets in accordance with the Medicaid (Title 19) rules so that assets can be protected.
- "I don't like to think about a living will because it makes me think of the end." That certainly is true, but that is the whole point of the living will and designation of health care representative. You need to think ahead of time about who you want to make regular, or end of life medical decisions for you, if you are unconscious or incapable of expressing those desires to the doctor treating you. Like the power of attorney, it's too late once you are incapable. And you need to tell the people you appoint what your wishes are and that you have named them. Be sure they feel the same way about those decisions. And that they have the emotional ability to make that decision. Some children could never bring themselves to make the decision to terminate a parent's life support, so that is not the child you want to burden with the decision. Medical science keeps advancing, as do the situations that might call for difficult decisions.
- And last, "What's a HIPAA, anyway?" Well, that stands for Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. When Congress passed it in 1996, it set out severe monetary penalties if medical people disclosed your private medical information to anyone. That is the reason you have to sign a so called "HIPAA" release when you go to your doctor. The reason you should have a HIPAA is so that you can allow any medical person to speak with the family members you name on the HIPAA.
So to paraphrase Dr. Seuss, today is your day. Your resolution is waiting. So get on your way. Dial up that phone and call an attorney to get those documents done. New Year's Resolutions don't get easier than that.