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June 2017
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This 'n That
by Anne Vargas

 

Anne Vargas
Anne Vargas
No one can confidently say that he will still be living tomorrow: Euripides

For the past two months, I have been sharing the journey I am on to “get our affairs in order”. My original intent was to write a short and simple article about the importance of doing this but the more I researched, the more I realized how much I didn’t know and how much we hadn’t done. Our affairs really were NOT in order.

This all evolved into a major project and I was soon buried in a multitude of information from a variety of reliable sources, many of which were identified in last month’s column. I also received words of wisdom from several readers, for which I am grateful.

help

Attempting to sort through everything about the legal aspect was overwhelming because there seemed to be so many versions and differences in opinion about what was most important and what to do first; which advice should I follow? The more I read the more dazed I became. And as I progressed I recognized that preparing for the end of life involves more than just getting papers in order.

The Legalzoom.com website clarified the difference between two completely different types of documents used for entirely different purposes. A living will is exclusively focused on health care decisions while you are alive; a last will & testament expresses your preferences after you have died, the major difference between the two being the time they take effect. A will has no legal impact until after you're dead, at which time it must be filed with a probate court. A living will, on the other hand, takes effect while you are still alive but generally, not until you are incapacitated. No one expects that to happen but it does.

There are numerous websites providing help. Legalnature.com and Ivestopedia.com both explain in detail the various types of Powers of Attorney; (Durable, NonDurable, Special, Medical, Springing) and why each would be needed as well as the importance of establishing one.

owl

There is no single planning blueprint that would work for everyone; there are too many variables unique to different families and situations. This trilogy of articles began as I shared my quest for preparation. At this point I can share what I have personally done, which is not intended to be guidance for others. Much on my list has been completed, much is still in progress but at least there is a goal and the reassurance of a plan.

We started to wade through the information by asking ourselves what would happen if we were in a plane crash or on a sinking ship, (you may remember my mentioning my overactive imagination.) We envisioned our children entering the empty house. Would they know where to look for everything they would need to have and know? Would they know who to notify, what to do? Somehow, looking at it this way made it easier for us to put together our list.

At this point we are still in reasonably good health (despite a calendar full of medical appointments and a plethora of pills). And we are of reasonably sound mind (despite repeatedly misplacing glasses and car keys and momentarily forgetting my best friend’s name) so it is a good time to do this.

We had already established a family trust (which will presumably mean avoiding probate) but we updated that. We also updated our wills which led to interesting conversations with close friends about various thoughts and opinions on the division of assets. Our children, executor and attorney have been provided with, or know the location of, those important documents along with our power of attorney, birth and marriage certificates, Social Security cards, insurance policies, deed to the house, complete financial information to include bank accounts, military discharge papers, car insurance, driver’s licenses, passport copies.

documents

But that is just one aspect of the preparation process. Equally important (perhaps even more so) is other information we want to impart. What if we become seriously ill. What are our personal wishes about medical care. What about POLST (Physician Orders for Life Sustaining Treatment)? How would we feel about DNR (no not resuscitate)?

These are heavy things to consider but we would prefer to consider them ourselves and relieve our children of difficult decisions.

In all probability, one of us will predecease the other but there is the possibility of mutual demise. Whatever arrangements we have put in place will hopefully be helpful and useful in either case. Our children have been told very specifically what we would want regarding funeral arrangements and burial. Since they do not live here, I have put together a detailed list of people to be contacted along with phone number and/or email addresses. I even included information on the preferred disposal of our possessions; all that “stuff” that no one wants can go to St. Vincent’s Thrift Shop but they wouldn’t know that if we didn’t tell them.

DNR

And there is another kind of will one might consider, an ethical one which is well described in the helpful book “Get It Together” by Melanie Cullen. It is not a legal document but a letter or statement about the experiences, values and beliefs that have shaped one’s life. To us, this is a wonderful idea.

Embracing death will allow you to embrace life.