Monday, January 20, 2014

Get Your House In Order

Last month my husband and I finally started the process to get our house in order and update our legal documents. While we had last wills, and a community property agreement, we needed living wills; and, come to find out, we didn’t have a durable power of attorney for financial issues in place. Intending to take control of this matter, we met with our lawyer and proceeded to draw up nine documents. Other than the community property agreement, the following documents are for each of us:

  • Health Care Directive to Physicians and Family: Allows a patient to give instructions about medical treatment; as well as refuse life-sustaining treatment in the event of terminal illness or injury, or becoming permanently unconscious.
  • Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care Decision: Written authorization for someone to act on your behalf, with regards to health care or life-sustaining treatments, while you are living and can no longer speak for yourself.
  • Durable Power of Attorney: Written authorization for someone to act on your behalf, with regards to personal finances, while you are living.
  • Community Property Agreement: Allows your spouse to inherit your money and property without having to go through probate.
  • Last Will and Testament: Written authorization naming someone to manage and distribute your money and property after you are deceased.

These documents not only spell out your wishes, they take the burden of decision making off family members. 

This may be a subject you have delayed action on because you don't want to think about it, or you don't care what happens. Perhaps you don't understand the options or the consequences. No more excuses! It is time to take control! In a year when I am focusing on balance in my life, getting my house in order seems like a good way to start. Taking care of these documents has somehow centered me. Isn’t that what balance is all about? I no longer need to concern myself with getting it done. It’s done. I suggest you get your house in order by talking to a lawyer and/or visiting the following websites:

  • Caring Connections: This website is packed full of information on what you need to do, and you can download your state’s advance directives form. These may be filled out and signed without a lawyer.
  • Aging with Dignity:  This websites Five Wishes gives you many things to consider and allows you to express how you want to be treated if you become seriously ill and unable to speak. Whether you use their document or include some of the ideas introduced in Five Wishes in your own documentation, this is worthwhile to reflect on. These may be filled out and signed without a lawyer.

Note: If you have these documents in place, or it has been awhile since you looked them over, I would suggest you review what it is you do have in case you are missing something or you need to make changes.
Surprise photo courtesy of Audrey Bordes