Here’s a checklist of the legal documents that can help you plan for the future:
- Power of attorney for healthcare. You always make your own decisions when you have capacity. When you don’t, you need someone who knows your beliefs and who will be an advocate for you. It’s best to name one agent and not two or more to minimize disagreement. Have a discussion with your family to tell them whom you have chosen. Truly, it’s a burden more than an honor, so try not to be swayed by the fear that someone’s feelings will be hurt.
- Power of attorney for finances. You may find that powers of attorney are described as “durable.” It’s a throwback to the common law of England, where powers of attorney disappeared if you became mentally incapacitated—the exact moment when you need one. For this type of power, it would be wise to name a family member who is good with money.
- Advance directive. This document describes what type of life-sustaining treatment you want if you are in a coma, are terminally ill, or have dementia. You always get pain relief, water to drink and food to eat. You can decide, however, that if your quality of life is unacceptable, whether you want CPR, tube feeding, treatment of a new condition, or want to be hooked up to machines that keep your body alive. There is a good form at https://tn.gov/assets/entities/health/attachments/PH-4194.pdf. Your signature can be notarized or witnessed by two adults not related to you.
- Living will. This document is like an advance directive but typically not as extensive.
- A will that is properly executed makes it easier for your family to dispose of your “stuff” according to your wishes.
- If you don’t want probate—either the expense or the public nature of it—a trust operates just like a will, but in private.
- Other directions. When my mom suffered from dementia, we didn’t know what she would have liked. Consider writing these things down, in addition to funeral directions. My husband and I spent a fun hour (I’m serious) on a recent drive developing a list for our respective children. We decided, for example, that we wanted our ashes sprinkled where are dogs are buried, and if new owners wouldn’t cooperate, our children could just throw the ashes over the fence.
I’ve always been a fan of gifts that are not just “more things.” Give it a try for the holidays this year and sleep better in 2017.