Getting older is an inevitable part of life – and, as the great comedian George Burns once said, much better than the alternative – and as the years pile up, so does the list of essential paperwork you should have organized and on hand. Whether you — or a loved one — are just beginning to contemplate retirement or are already comfortably ensconced in a senior living facility, this list of must-have documents should always be completed, notarized (when applicable), up to date, and accessible, not just for your sake but also for the peace of mind of the people who love and care for you most.
Comprehensive Contact Information
Almost everyone has at one time or another designated their “in case of emergency” contact on paperwork for school, work or during a routine doctor’s visit, but according to a recent report, as many as 95 percent of emergency room patients don’t realize that there is a difference between your emergency contact and the person empowered to make medical decisions and direct end-of-life care. If you are too ill to communicate your wishes regarding life-saving measures and preferred treatment methods, health care professionals need to know how to contact someone who can legally speak on your behalf. If you are in residential care, also document contact information for nearby family members, friends and any other people who play an important role in your life.
it comes to your health, no one knows your history better than you, and even then, it’s easy to forget names, dates and details, especially as time goes by. Keeping a ledger that documents doctor’s names and numbers, insurance information, office visits, procedures, tests, medications (names as well as doses) and allergies will help you obtain speedy and accurate medical care, no matter how often you are shuffled from physician to physician or whether you are able to recall and communicate relevant details or not. Also consider including a consent for release of information that gives any family members or relevant entities (for example, your insurance company or your attorney) access to your medical records. This way, they can continue to gather information for your file and speak with your medical team as needed to help facilitate your care.
Power of Attorney
Most people understandably prefer to be the masters of their own destinies, but sudden illnesses can rob you of the ability to speak for yourself. In such an eventuality, it’s important to ensure that someone you trust has been empowered to make decisions on your behalf. There is more than one type of power of attorney, depending on the rights you’d like your representative to have and how long you’d like the POA to last; do your research and make sure you’re comfortable with the person you choose, as well as the power you give that person.
Living Will or Advanced Medical Directive
Unlike a power of attorney, which appoints someone to oversee legal and financial matters, a living will or advanced medical directive empowers a trusted individual to make medical decisions when you’re physically or mentally unable to do so yourself. Similar to a last will and testament, these documents allow you to outline your preferences regarding medical treatment and potentially invasive life-saving measures and designate a proxy to carry them out. Enlist an attorney to draw up your living will or AMD and make sure you have a copy for both your personal and your medical records.