6 Legal Documents Seniors Should Have
A comprehensive care plan is one of the best things you can do to ensure a senior loved one remains comfortable and content at home, but specific legal matters may also need your attention and consideration.
Organizing your loved one’s legal affairs can protect and streamline their assets, finances, healthcare, and estate planning while giving you peace of mind that critical documents are in place when needed during a health emergency or at the end of life.
Honor Your Senior’s Wishes
Talking about legal documents with an older loved one can be difficult and uncomfortable. However, delaying this conversation may cause uncertainty and stress if your loved one suddenly needs help making financial or medical decisions.
Consult with an attorney and execute any legal documents before health, financial, or legal issues arise. Common legal documents may include the following:
- Last Will and Testament
A will outlines the distribution of your loved one’s property, money, and possessions after death. A will also names the person overseeing the distribution of their estate and outlines final wishes about funeral arrangements. If an older adult does not have a will, state laws determine how to distribute the estate.
- Advanced Healthcare Directives or Living Will
Many older adults also elect to prepare a living will that specifies the types of medical treatments they do and do not want if they can’t make their own healthcare decisions. Seniors may choose to include a do-not-resuscitate (DNR) order in their living will if they do not wish healthcare professionals to revive them after their heart stops.
- Revocable Living Trust
A revocable living trust enables seniors to transfer ownership of their assets to a trust while maintaining control over their possessions during their lifetime. A revocable living trust offers privacy protection and probate avoidance. It also allows the transfer of assets to beneficiaries after the senior's death.
- Power of Attorney (POA) – Financial and Health Care
Older adults should complete two separate power of attorney documents: One to designate a person to handle their finances and a second to assign a person to make health care decisions if they cannot decide on their own. Older adults can choose the same person for their financial and healthcare decisions or a different person for each. This person, called a proxy, should be familiar with their healthcare and financial wishes.
- Beneficiary Forms
If your loved one has a life insurance policy, pension, or retirement account, they should complete a beneficiary form to designate who will receive any remaining funds after they die. Make sure all beneficiary forms are complete and up to date.
- HIPAA Forms
Your loved one may choose to complete HIPAA forms to permit their doctors to share health information with designated individuals, such as family members or caregivers. Unlike a power of attorney, HIPAA forms allow health care providers to share information with selected individuals even when your loved one can still make health care decisions.
In addition to legal documents, your loved one should gather other information that may help family members manage their estate, including:
- Personal information, such as date of birth, social security number, marriage certificate, etc.
- Prepaid or preplanned funeral information
- Life insurance policies
- Investment, tax, banking, and credit/debit card information
- Health insurance and medical information
- Deeds for various properties
- Vehicle titles and registration
- Contact information for financial advisors, insurance agents, accountants, attorneys, and other professionals
- A list of passwords and login information for accounts and memberships
- A list of improvements made to any properties, with completion dates
Organize Legal Papers and Other Documents
After your loved one completes their legal paperwork assisted by an attorney, it can be challenging to keep everything organized and easily accessible in the event of an emergency.
Gathering and organizing your loved one’s legal and estate documents in one place is a great start, but the effort will be in vain if no one knows or remembers where the information is stored. Your loved one should tell a trusted family member, friend, or attorney where they can locate their important papers.
Remember, legal documents and requirements may vary according to state, jurisdiction, and other circumstances. Discuss your loved one’s legal affairs as soon as possible with an experienced attorney specializing in “elder law.”