Do You Have the Right Emergency Documents?
Find out what emergency documents you must have for protection.
Since this week is Halloween, I thought I’d tackle the grisly topic of death and disaster. It’s a weird issue because you don’t have any need for money after you die (at least I don’t think you do), so you may not really care what happens to your earthly assets and liabilities after you’re gone. But if you want to be prepared for a critical medical emergency that leaves you incapacitated or be remembered for making your death as easy as possible for those you leave behind, this article is for you. Next week, I’ll continue this spooky topic and tell you what happens to your debt when you die.
What Emergency Documents Should You Have?
There are a few documents that everyone should have to make sure that you’re as prepared as possible for the most terrible “what ifs” of life and death, like:
What if you’re in an accident and need life-support to stay alive?
What if you’re mentally unable to make health care decisions for yourself?
What if you die and no one knows your last wishes?
As awful as it is to think about these situations, it can be even more difficult for your family or friends if they don’t know what you’d want them to do. So it’s really important to make your wishes clearly known in the event that you can’t make them for yourself. Here are five legal documents that everyone should have:
Document 1: Power of Attorney (POA)
The purpose of a Power of Attorney is to give someone you trust, called an agent, the ability to make decisions and transactions for you while you’re alive. You can always change it or even appoint more than one agent if you want to. There are different kinds of POAs, but a Durable Power of Attorney is the most common type. It can be used any time you’re not capable of doing routine things, like paying your bills, selling real estate, signing contracts, making insurance claims, filing taxes, or making financial decisions for yourself. That’s how the financial end of your life can continue to run smoothly if you become incapacitated or are just unavailable when something important needs to be done.
Document 2: Health Care Proxy
This document also goes by different names, such as health care surrogate, health care power of attorney, and power of attorney for health care. It allows you to designate someone to make medical decisions for you when you can’t. Imagine that you’re in a serious accident and become mentally incapacitated. A health care proxy would allow your agent to admit you into a health care facility or to apply for public benefits on your behalf.
Document 3: Living Will
This document is similar to a heath care proxy, but it only applies when you’re facing death, so you need to have both. A living will specifies what you’d want to happen regarding end-of-life care if you were in a vegetative state or in the final stages of a terminal condition. It tells your family and doctor whether you’d want to extend your life artificially by various means or to die naturally, for instance.
Document 4: Last Will and Testament
Everyone knows that a will takes care of your last wishes and possessions after you die. But what you may not know is that a will isn’t just for old rich people—every adult should have a will, no matter your age. If you don’t have a will, the courts will decide what happens to your possessions—not your family. Your will should be updated periodically to insure a smooth transfer of assets upon your death. Getting married, having a child, getting divorced, and becoming a widow or widower are examples of life events that should trigger you to update your will.
Document 5: HIPAA Release
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, protects your medical privacy. Some hospitals won’t allow medical professionals to disclose any information about you, even to your health care proxy, unless you have a HIPAA release. Your family obviously needs to speak to your doctor about your medical situation without creating a legal problem for the doctor, so be sure and add this one to your list of important emergency documents.
Do Married People Need Emergency Documents?
Sometimes married people don’t think they need emergency documents because they have a spouse to make important decisions for them if something bad happens. The problem is that jointly-owned assets, such as a house or a car, generally can’t be sold without consent from both of you.
Here’s how that could tie your hands: Let’s say your spouse has a bad accident and is in the hospital in a coma. If you need money to pay your bills, you couldn’t sell assets that you own together. Nor could you sell a stock, for instance, that your spouse owns in just his or her name. Married couples and domestic partners should generally give each other durable power of attorney to avoid having these kinds of financial restrictions during a crisis.
Also consider what would happen to your minor children if you and your spouse were in an accident together. If you die at the same time or if one dies and the other is incapacitated, it’s critical that you name a guardian in your will, so the court doesn’t appoint one for them that wouldn’t be your choice. Your emergency documents make sure that you and your children’s future is protected no matter what happens.
How to Create Emergency Documents
Creating a Power of Attorney, a Heath Care Proxy, a Living Will, a Last Will, and a HIPAA Release doesn’t have to be expensive. If you have a complex situation, you’ll definitely want to work with an attorney. Otherwise, you might find what you need at an online legal site like nolo.com, rocketlawyer.com, or legalzoom.com.
Where to Keep Emergency Documents
[[AdMiddle]You should keep all of your original signed legal documents in a very safe place, like a bank safe deposit box or at your attorney’s office. But it’s also smart to keep copies of everything at home in case you need them at night or on the weekend. You can also scan and upload them to a free remote storage site like mednotice.com or filedropper.com so they live in the Internet cloud, too.
Docubank is the nation’s oldest and largest electronic storage service for emergency documents. They issue a wallet ID card and alert stickers for your driver’s license so a hospital anywhere in the world can quickly get the information they need about you online or by fax. Docubank charges $45 for one year or $145 for a five-year membership.
Create Your Emergency Documents Now
Do yourself and your family a favor by getting all your emergency documents created as soon as possible. It’s much easier to prepare for a potential disaster than it is to recover from one that blind-sides you. After a tragedy occurs it may be too late to make important decisions. I promise that it isn’t difficult and it’ll make you feel really good to know you’re as prepared as possible if something terrible and unexpected darkens your doorstep. Stay safe this Halloween.
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