Do You Have the Right Emergency Documents?

Find out what emergency documents you must have for protection.

Laura Adams, MBA
5-minute read
Episode #195

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.

Married couples should generally give each other durable power of attorney to avoid having financial restrictions during a crisis.

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.


About the Author

Laura Adams, MBA

Laura Adams received an MBA from the University of Florida. She's an award-winning personal finance author, speaker, and consumer advocate who is a frequent, trusted source for the national media. Money-Smart Solopreneur: A Personal Finance System for Freelancers, Entrepreneurs, and Side-Hustlers is her newest title. Laura's previous book, Debt-Free Blueprint: How to Get Out of Debt and Build a Financial Life You Love, was an Amazon #1 New Release. Do you have a money question? Call the Money Girl listener line at 302-364-0308. Your question could be featured on the show.