Gather and review legal and financial documents.
When you start to discuss future plans with your loved one, it's a good time to review any legal or financial documents they have prepared to make sure they are up-to-date - wills, trusts, powers of attorney, health care proxies or health care powers of attorney. Especially if your loved one is coping with an illness, his or her health directives need to be in order. An estate lawyer can help prepare, review or update the right legal documents.
Here is a list of basic legal and financial actions you can take to help your loved one plan ahead:
- Consult an estate-planning attorney.
Trained estate-planning attorney are skilled with helping you and your loved one deal with the complexities of legal documentation. We recommend working with an estate-planning attorney to make sure your loved one's affairs are in order. Be sure to read up on the specifics of your state to make sure any documents you fill out are legally valid. There are legal self-help guides and online resources:
- Nolo: www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/wills-trusts-estates
- American Bar Association: www.americanbar.org/aba.html
If your loved one hasn't done so already, meet with a trained estate-planning professional to make sure his or her affairs are in order.
- Name beneficiaries.
A beneficiary is someone your loved one will choose to get assets and take over accounts after he or she is gone. Help your loved one name the right beneficiaries on all IRAs and retirement plans, any bank accounts or property. Most people rarely change beneficiaries after opening their accounts or even know exactly who their beneficiaries are at any given time
- Fill out an advance health care directive.
Also known as a living will, your loved one will use this document to describe his or her preferences for health care - how far to go in trying to revive him or her and when to stop. After your loved one creates this document, he or she has to make it accessible. One way is to email a copy to family members and emergency contacts. The health care directive should be clearly documented and copies of those plans delivered to those carrying out his or her wishes.
- AARP advanced health care directives:
- AARP advanced health care directives:
- File a financial power of attorney.
This power of attorney acts similarly to a health care power, but it gives a designated person the right to act on your loved one's behalf in legal and financial matters. Work with an estate lawyer to create this document. This is a particularly critical document if your loved one has been diagnosed with an early stages or signs of dementia.
- AARP financial power of attorney: www.aarp.org/relationships/caregiving-resource-center/info-11-2010/lfm_financial_power_of_attorney.html
- Make or update a will.
Your loved one will use a will to document his or her intentions at the time of death. The will can go into specifics about assets and other elements of your loved one's estate - how they are managed and distributed after death. It's a good idea for your loved one to review his or her will to make sure it is still accurate or make any necessary updates. If your loved one doesn't have a will, help him or her make one by contacting an estate lawyer.
- Safeguard your loved one's documents.
Your loved one should put all of his or her key documents and important stuff in a fireproof, stormproof, theft-proof and waterproof place. A bank safe deposit box is a good option. Help your loved one scan these documents and store them on a secure server. Send physical or digital copies to other family members who should have them. Examples of these kinds of documents are: life insurance policies, originals of wills and trusts, health powers of attorney, health directives, deeds to a home or other property, car or boat title certificates, paper U.S. Savings Bonds - anything that documents legal and financial accounts and assets