(Times Herald) You have done your estate plan. You are comforted believing that everything is in place. You have instructions in the event of your mental disability.
You have directives so that when you are gone, what you have will be going to whom you want, when you want, the way you want.
Completing these documents is crucial, but it’s still not enough.
Do the persons whom you have named to handle things after your mental disability or after your death know what your wishes are?
Do they know where to find your documents, your financial records and your stuff?
It has been reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association that living wills and other medical directives are not accessible in 74% of cases when needed in hospitals.
This means that three out of four people who take the time to complete their living wills and other medical directives are still not having their wishes heard.
My daughter, Elizabeth, was home for Thanksgiving this past week. We had a discussion about estate planning.
Elizabeth and her brother, Luke, will be handling things for me and my wife Emily if something happened to both of us. She knows where to find our estate planning documents so she will be able to follow our instructions.
Even though we plan on being around for a while, we discussed our funeral and burial wishes.
Have you recently talked to your patient advocates, the people who will be making medical and mental health care decisions for you when you cannot? You may want to talk to them on a regular basis to make sure they are still willing to do it.
Also discuss with your patient advocates about your medical and mental health care wishes, especially about end-of-life care. The more information your patient advocates have about your views, the more you will help yourself, and them, should the need arise down the road to make decisions about your care.
These discussions can help ease the emotional stress your patient advocates may feel in making difficult decisions about your care.
You want to make sure that your documents to be readily available when needed so that your wishes are going to be followed.
I know some people who make copies of all of their medical documents, including their health care power of attorney, designation of patient advocate, living will, Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act authorizations and other medical directives.
They then put a set of copies in their nightstand by their bed, in the glove boxes of all their vehicles, in their purse and at the Florida condo. That is a lot of paper. There has to be a better way.
And there is. You can get a membership in an emergency access service for your health care directives such as Docubank.
This service will get your health care power of attorney, living will and related documents to a health care provider who needs them at a moment’s notice.
This service also supplies a listing of your medical conditions and allergies, together with the names and phone numbers of your emergency contacts, patient advocates and your doctor, so they can be contacted in an emergency. You can also include a list of your medications.
As part of your DocuBank membership, you receive an emergency wallet card that instructs your patient advocate, the hospital or other health care provider to call a toll-free number or go online to access your health care documents, medical information and emergency contacts.
With DocuBank, you and your health care providers have instant access to all of these vital documents and medical information.
DocuBank helps to make sure that the documents you’ve completed will be there when they are needed most. The DocuBank emergency card makes your medical directives immediately accessible 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year anywhere in the world.
Not only should you regularly speak with your patient advocates, but you should also talk to your financial agents whom you have appointed under a financial power of attorney or trust. You want to make sure not only that they are still willing to handle your finances when you cannot, but also where they can find your power of attorney, trust and financial records and information.
Provide them with access to your online usernames and passwords.
The more information your financial agents have now, when you are alive and well, means the less information they will have to search for when you are not so well, or after your death. Do your financial agents know what their duties will entail and what is expected of them? For example, with our annual updating program, we hold a regular successor trustee training workshop for our clients and their appointed successor trustees.
By speaking regularly with your appointed financial and health care agents, you can prevent what happens every so often with new clients coming into our office with an existing estate plan. They haven’t updated their plan in so long, that when we review the persons they have named as their financial and health care agents, they do not remember who they were or why they were named.
If you meet with your estate planner on a regular basis, you can keep things up to date. We recommend that you review your estate plan with your estate planner on at least an annual basis, and update your documents as necessary. Just like you should do an annual health checkup, you should do an annual estate plan checkup.
There are many reasons to update your estate plan. Firstly, there are personal reasons, both financial and non-financial. There are births, deaths, disabilities, marriages, divorces, job changes, retirements, stock market goes up and the stock market goes down.
All of these could be a reason to trigger an update to your plan.
Changes in the law can also affect your estate plan.
The law changes can either be tax or non-tax. The politicians in Lansing and Washington, D.C., never fail to pass some sort of law changes every year that could affect the way that you do your estate plan. They do have to justify their existence.
Lastly, another reason to update your plan changes in your estate planning attorney’s experience and training.
Although not required to do so, many attorneys regularly attend continuing professional education programs. As a result, they should always be improving.
By regularly speaking with your financial and health care agents and keeping your estate plan up to date, you can stay in control of your assets while you’re alive and well, provide for you and your loved ones in the event of your mental disability, and when you’re gone, give what you have to whom you want when you want the way you want, all at the lowest overall cost to you and your loved ones.