Keeping legal documents updated is important for any adult, but particularly so for seniors. As Dad gets older—and while he’s still able—he should review and update his legal documents to make sure he and his assets are protected. And if he’s missing any documents, now’s the time to get those drawn up. Offer to help him with the process or to attend meetings with him and his advisors to make sure things are in order.
Refer to this legal document checklist as you help him with the review:
The will specifies what happens to your dad’s valued assets (i.e. his house, car, money, family pet, etc.) after his death. Having a will is the only way to make sure all his assets go where he wants them to. If Dad doesn’t have a will in place, his estate will be divided by a judge in probate court. Not only is this a costly and time-consuming alternative, this distribution won’t take his wishes into account. To create a will, it’s best that Dad meet with an attorney. If he has a simple estate and family situation, he may also be able to use a software program to generate his will.
2. Durable Power of Attorney
This document allows a designated party to make legal and financial decisions for Dad if, at some point, he is unable to do so himself. Without this document, it will be difficult for you or another family member to help with his financial or legal matters. In fact, it may require asking a judge to grant you guardianship, which, like probate, is another costly and time-consuming option.
3. Living Will
A living will allows Dad to dictate his medical care preferences in case he is unable to make decisions at some point. This may make tough decisions—such his preference to refuse life-prolonging treatment at some point—easier for family members to follow.
4. Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care
This document (also called a health care proxy) allows Dad to name someone to make health care decisions for him in the event he is incapacitated. This authority may also allow the proxy access to Dad’s health care records and other information. Keep in mind that the person he designates with this authority must be willing to carry out Dad’s wishes.
5. Authorized User on Bank and Investment Accounts
Along with the durable power of attorney designation, Dad’s bank may require him to fill out another form to give someone else permission to access his funds to manage such things as his bills, medical care or funeral expenses.
As you’re helping Dad update these legal documents, encourage him to put all his important documents in a secure place, usually a fireproof safe or a bank safe deposit box, so that he, his family members or his legal agents can easily access them if needed. These documents should include personal records (social security number, birth certificate, marriage certificate), legal records (will, living will, durable power of attorney) and financial records (bank account numbers, insurance policies, tax returns, mortgages).
If managing his personal or financial affairs is becoming too taxing for Dad, seek the advice of an attorney or an estate professional about next steps. And if Dad seems overwhelmed with other everyday activities, discuss the option of an assisted living community. There he’d get the support he needs in a safe, comfortable setting.
When it comes to caring for seniors and their needs, the professionals at Life Care Services offer you the benefit of our experience with the decisions you’re making.