Hi, my name is Stacy Singer. I’m an ACTEC Fellow from Chicago, Illinois and I’m here with Margaret Van Houten, an ACTEC Fellow from Des Moines, Iowa.
This is Part 2 of “Tips for Individuals Living Alone.” In Part I, we spoke about your personal safety and how to possibly prevent or reduce the repercussions of a health emergency when you live alone. Today, we will discuss how to make sure your finances and legal affairs are well taken care if you become incapacitated for more than a few days.
Margaret, thanks for being here. What steps do you recommend in preparation for a time when you may have compromised health?
Preparing for a Health Emergency
Margaret: Thank you, Stacy. It’s important to create or update your Healthcare Power of Attorney and other estate planning documents. If you have a health care agent, you should make sure that that person has a copy of your power of attorney. It is usually part of your estate planning documents, but if you do not have one, please get an attorney to help you create one.
Sometimes when one lives alone, it is hard to impose on others, even our children, to help us in these matters. My advice is to accept that others are generally eager to help us, so if you are having trouble thinking about who can help you, pick out who you would like and who you would trust and just ask them.
If your health care agent is not your “check-in buddy,” as we discussed in Part 1, introduce them to each other and share their contact information.
Keep your original healthcare power of attorney in a safe, hopefully fireproof place, and tell your check-in buddy and your healthcare agent where it is. When you sign the documents, tell your lawyer and your agents where you will be keeping the originals. If you put your original documents in a safe deposit box, please have one of your agents as an authorized person who can access the box. Tell that person where you keep the key.
Share your estate lawyer and financial agent or success trustee’s contact information with your agent. Also, let them know who your primary care physician is and what hospital you would prefer.
Preparing for Long-Term Health Issues or Incapacitation
Stacy: So, Margaret, what happens if your healthcare issue isn’t short term, it is something that is more prolonged?
Margaret: If your illness continues for a longer period of time, your healthcare agent will need to coordinate with your trustee and financial agent. Make sure that your financial agent has a copy of your Healthcare Power of Attorney document. Give a copy of your Healthcare Power of Attorney to your primary care physician and the hospital system at which you would like to be treated. If you have more than one home, decide on your preferred hospital in each locality.
I recommend sharing electronic versions of critical documents with your agents.
Critical Estate Planning Financial Documents
Stacy: I think that’s a great tip, Margaret, and actually I know some attorneys who give a thumb drive with all of the signed documents so people can have them with them wherever they are. So tell me, what steps can you take to be comfortable that your financial matters will be addressed if you are unable to do that yourself?
Margaret: If you become temporarily disabled, it is important that your financial agent on your Financial Power of Attorney and your successor trustee if you have a revocable trust, have copies of your documents and that they are notified if you become ill. When creating those documents, make sure you have successor or alternate agents in case your first choice is not available.
If you handle your finances primarily through a revocable trust, keep in mind that it is the trustee of that trust, usually your successor, who will take care of most of the finances at those times. The financial agent will, however, still have some duties, such as dealing with Medicare and health insurance, social security, and other government dealings, all the fun stuff. If the agent and successor trustee are not the same person, those two people will need to communicate and work together.
Your financial agent and any Trustee (including a corporate trustee) should be given information about your banking arrangements, any particular banker you work with, a list of your financial accounts and a list of your monthly bills that are paid automatically as well as those you pay manually, either by check or online. If you are uncomfortable sharing this information, create a list and tell you agent where to find the list. You may also want to give a copy of that list to your attorney.
Your agent should understand your digital legacy preferences and have access to your phone and computer. Your agent will need to be given your passwords to log on or a way to find those passwords, either by knowing where they are stored or having access to a digital password service or program. If your phone or computer is linked to your work, you may not be authorized to share the basic login information so please coordinate with your work and give your agent the name of someone at work they can call.
Stacy: Thank you, Margaret, this is such great advice I think not only for people living alone but for everyone.
We have created a checklist which is available on ACTEC’s website. Visit actec.org/estate-planning and look for this video, Tips for Individuals Living Alone, to download the document and review additional related topics. Thanks so much, Margaret.
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