By Tom Fontana, MSPT
There’s an interesting game called “Would you rather…” that involves weird hypotheticals such as “Would you rather have one eye in the middle of your head or two noses?” or “Would you rather have a bucket stuck on your head or a cement block stuck on your foot?” that is a great conversation starter (the “why’s” behind answers are often hilarious). I’ve got an even better hypothetical: “Would you rather not eat for a week or fill out all your advanced directives and estate-planning documents?” My money is on most people not eating for a week.
Anything related to our aging/infirmity or demise is unpleasant and always seems like it can be kicked down the road for another day, if not another week, month, or year. Until the day when you (or, more importantly, a loved one) needs those plans. Then there’s another question: “Would you rather not eat for a week or have to take care of a relative who gave you no instructions about their end-of-life decisions or affairs?” After living the last few months more in the latter situation, I’d definitely go without food.
Trying to help someone in need may be a bit harder now than a generation ago as concerns about identity theft/fraud and privacy laws make it both harder to steal someone’s information and to assist them.
To make things easier, first, designate a healthcare proxy (or healthcare durable power of attorney) to make healthcare decisions for you if you are unable to make them for yourself and, better still, give some direction as to the measures you’d like taken to prolong your life and under what conditions you’d like to keep living (otherwise known as a living will—not honored in all states).
Second, designate a power of attorney (someone to manage your financial affairs).
In both instances, you should ask the person if they would be willing to act in this capacity and both have legal requirements (at a minimum usually they must be witnessed by a notary). It does not need to be the same person who is both, though there may be situations in which they need to work together. These documents should either be in their possession or readily accessible (if you don’t want them to have this information while you are able to conduct your affairs) so they can prove you gave them these powers if you are incapacitated. Better yet, at your most important financial institutions, let them know who your power of attorney is, in advance, so no documents need be exchanged or additional layers of complexity introduced.
Put as many of your bills on autopayment through the vendor or through your bank. If you’re not comfortable doing that, at least make sure your POA has, or can easily find, a list of your important financial accounts (including numbers), insurance policies, and important credit card numbers (if/when they get statements, usually only the last 4 digits are visible which IS NOT HELPFUL WHEN TRYING TO PAY THEM!). Let them know the last 4 digits of your social security number as this is often a security screening tool.
Make sure you are organized with what information you have given to whom. Make it a point to review these arrangements ANNUALLY as things change. You don’t want someone who has passed on, moved away or fallen out of favor to be in charge of these important matters.
When you ask a loved one to take on these responsibilities, since carrying them out is the opposite of fun, at least love them back and give them readily accessible information to make their lives easier.