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Long-term care planning starts with naming your decision-makers

When we think about long-term care, we often assume it's something far in the future. We're thinking about planning for how to choose and pay for a nursing home or long-term care facility for the elderly. We may have gone so far as to choose a good one.

But what if you were in an accident or developed a sudden illness? What if you suddenly lost your ability to make or communicate your decisions about your finances and health care? It happens all the time, although we don't often consider it. Yet many people haven't taken the time to set up a durable and medical power of attorney or directive to physicians so that a trusted person can immediately step in to make financial health care decisions in your best interest.

A recent article in Forbes offered a wide variety of good suggestions on the steps people can take to create an effective estate plan. If you don't time have to set up an entire estate plan, you can still put yourself and your family in a substantially better position by getting just these documents done.

A directive to physicians is commonly called a “living will.” Carefully think through what kind of care you would want if you were to become incapacitated and were expected to die. Would you want heroic measures taken to save your life? If not, would you want a feeding tube or pain medication? A directive to physicians can clarify those answers for your caregivers.

A medical power of attorney allows you to designate a trusted family member or friend to make health care decisions for you if you are unable to make or communicate them yourself. It places that person in a fiduciary role, meaning that they must act in your best interest. When you choose someone, discuss your wishes with him or her while you are well.

Similarly, a durable power of attorney designates the same or a different person to pay your bills, write checks, pay rent and manage your other finances should you become unable to do so. Again, that person can only legally act in your best interest.

If you don’t have these documents set up in advance, your family may be put in the position of resolving disputes during an already stressful time. If your capacity lasts, they may have to go to the expense and trouble of setting up a guardianship to handle your affairs. Don’t put it off.

Source: Forbes, "Estate Planning For the Rest Of Us," Liz Davidson, Sept. 12, 2013

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