We never really know what our future holds. We can plan and prepare, but we can’t control every aspect of our lives. Unfortunately, any one of us may get sick or become seriously injured in an accident. If this were to happen to you tomorrow, are you ready?
Who will speak for you if you can’t speak for yourself? Keep in mind that state and federal laws control who has access to your medical records and who can make medical and financial decisions for you. Even if you are married, HIPPA laws prevent a spouse from having open access to your medical records and information.
However, you can gain some control by designating an agent to handle both your medical affairs and your finances. Wouldn’t you rather have someone you know and trust deal with your health and your money if you aren’t able to do so? Here are three tips to help you be more prepared should something like this happen to you:
1. Get a Health Care Directive or Advanced Medical Directive
The name of the document depends on the state where you live, but that’s not really important.
What is important is that you have one. Advanced directives for medical care are written instructions stating how you want your health care to be managed if you are unable to speak for yourself. Without one, your health care will be out of your control and in the hands of those who may have different values or beliefs than you. An advanced directive may also help to prevent conflict among family members over how your medical care should be handled if they can’t agree among themselves.
Advanced medical directives may also be used to appoint someone to represent your medical care interests by speaking on your behalf. Therefore, it is important to designate a representative who understands your medical needs and wants. Talk with your agent so he or she knows what you want. Someone with a medical background, a nurse for example, would be ideal but is not necessary.
Be careful about appointing more than one agent because laws often require that all agents agree before a doctor can move forward. Therefore, appointing all your children to be your medical agents may create a problem if they can’t agree on your course of treatment.
2. Get a Power of Attorney (POA)
The most common way to plan for your financial future is to create a Power of Attorney (POA). A POA is a legal document which allows you to appoint someone (your agent) to act on your behalf. Essentially, you are designating someone else to make financial decisions for you.
The ideal person to become your financial agent should be well organized, understand financial issues, and be detail-oriented.
And be sure to get a POA while you are of sound mind. If you fail to prepare while you are mentally competent and your decision-making abilities decline, someone may have to go to court to have a guardian appointed to help you. That can take lots of time, costs more money, and can be a very public process.
3. Minimize the risks
Designating a health care agent or creating a Power of Attorney comes with some risks. The fact that your agents have a lot of authority over your medical care and finances can lead to abuse. For example, your financial agent may make gifts to others or change beneficiaries on retirement accounts or insurance policies. Or your health care agent may approve a medical treatment you don’t want.
So, how can you minimize the chance these bad things will happen?
- Beware of anyone who offers to handle your money without you asking.
- Never let anyone pressure you into “helping” with your money.
- Only appoint a health care or financial agent that you really trust and make sure the agent is aware of your medical or financial preferences.
- Tell your family, friends, and financial advisor about your arrangements so they can look out for you.
- You can set up your POA to require that your agent regularly report to someone else about the financial transactions he or she has completed for you.
- Finally, these documents can be changed at any time if you decide your agent was not the best choice as long as you are mentally competent to make those changes.
While you may not know what is coming down the road, you can remain in the driver’s seat when it comes to handling your money or making health care decisions by being prepared.
To get started, check with your employer to see if it offers an Employee Assistance Program (EAP). Such a program may offer free services or guidance. Or contact an attorney for help. You could also check with your local legal aid office to see if it offers information about these documents. No matter where you live, you can create your own documents by visiting LawHelp.org. Simply click on the “Interactive Forms” button and select your state.
LSS Financial Counseling is here to help you conquer your debt or achieve whatever your financial goals may be. Call us at 888.577.2227 to schedule an appointment with one of our Financial Counselors. Don’t wait to improve your finances – take action today!
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Author Barbara Miller is a Certified Financial Counselor with LSS and she specializes in Bankruptcy Counseling and Education. Want to read more from Barbara Miller about planning for the future? Check out 7 Simple Steps for Estate Planning and 5 Tips to Retire Debt-Free.