As a financial professional, I understand the importance of planning ahead, thinking long-term, and looking at the big picture. Having a plan in place helps protect and grow wealth.
Planning is equally important in health care.
With both health and wealth, planning for the future means having certain documents in place – and making sure that they are current. On the financial side, estate planning is a priority. From a health perspective, a living will and other medical paperwork are just as essential.
Many people procrastinate when it comes to completing or updating their medical documents until something goes wrong, but at that point it may be too late. Now is the best time for you to get your medical and end-of-life paperwork in order. It's worth revisiting these documents annually in case any of your plans or preferences need updating.
Essential medical documentation, explained
Here are some answers some common questions about setting up essential medical paperwork.
What is a living will? A living will, also known as an advance healthcare directive, is a legal document that explains your healthcare wishes. It becomes effective when you are unable to make your own decisions. For example, if someone is seriously injured in a car accident and reliant on machines to keep them alive, a living will lets their family members know if they want their life prolonged in that way.
Who needs a living will? Everybody. Even someone who is 20 years old should have one, because medical problems happen at any age. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us that there is no rhyme or reason to who may have a medical incident. What if you have a child, in college, that has a medical issue? Due to HIPPA laws, you may not be able to get any information or make any decisions on their behalf.
Why is it important to set up a living will now? If you wait until you need a living will, in many cases, it’s too late to set one up. At that point, making a decision about your health may require an expensive legal process, and sometimes a decision needs to be made immediately.
What is a medical surrogate? This is also called a healthcare proxy or healthcare power of attorney. By completing this document, you’re appointing someone you trust to make healthcare decisions for you if you are unable to make decisions for yourself.
How can I set up these documents? You may want to talk to an attorney, or use a professional such as LegalShield (www.getthebestprotection.com). But you can also set these up online, sometimes at no cost (remember, you get what you pay for). The requirements vary from state to state, so start by doing a web search for legal documents in your state.
Here’s a link to download these forms: https://livingwillforms.org/
Do my medical documents need to be notarized? It depends on your state – and your unique circumstances. If you are concerned about potential family infighting over decisions, it’s best to have your documents notarized.
What other documents do I need? Setting up a durable power of attorney authorizes someone to act on your behalf in a wide range of legal and business matters. If you are in a coma or otherwise incapacitated, your family may need to access your accounts to pay bills or sign documents for you.
Here’s a link to download these forms: https://powerofattorney.com/
Someone with a terminal illness may want to complete a do not resuscitate (DNR) form, which specifies that if they experience a heart attack or other medical incident, their doctors should not go to extremes to bring them back.
Here’s a link to complete this form: https://eforms.com/dnr/
If you are interested in being an organ donor and want to provide more specific instructions than the ones associated with your driver’s license, you can complete a form that outlines your wishes.
Here’s a link to complete this form: https://www.pdfrun.com/form/organ-donation-form
If you have concerns about how your estate will be managed if you become incapacitated or need to go into a nursing home, you can assign a pre-need guardian as well as a backup guardian. This person could be a family member, a trusted friend, or a professional guardian.
Having your essential medical paperwork in order not only simplifies the legal process, but also clarifies your wishes for your loved ones. They won’t have to guess what you might want because they will already know.
If you have additional questions, or for more information, please contact us.