At some point most of us will face the difficulty of helping a loved one who is dying. Certain actions taken in advance may make the situation easier for all concerned.
Durable powers of attorney
Each adult, despite age or health, should appoint one or more individuals to serve as an agent to make decisions concerning health care and property rights. These powers may range from simple tasks such as paying utility bills or helping with medical appointments to major decisions such as selling homes or making end-of-life health care decisions. An agent may be given powers which are either immediate or “springing” meaning the powers do not come into existence until incapacity. The agent should always be someone who is trustworthy to ensure the power is not misused.
Inventory and location
A detailed list of assets and where they are located should be prepared and updated regularly. Provide a hard copy of the asset list to your agent and store an electronic version. If you access accounts online, maintain a secured list of user names for each account along with the passwords. You must update this list regularly as many accounts require periodic changes of the password.
Prepare and update estate- planning documents and provide the storage location of the originals to the person who will be in charge of handling matters upon disability or death.
Funeral and burial instructions
Pre-planning your funeral is a gift you can give to your family. The stress of making decisions without input from a loved one before death is an added burden on survivors. If death is sudden and unplanned, then there is an increased risk that choices will be made in haste or out of guilt and would not reflect the true wishes of the decedent.
This final suggestion of a family meeting before death to discuss plans set up by the dying person is one that is often avoided because of emotional strain of discussing death. If you do not want to handle this alone, then see if a trusted friend, adviser or counselor would be willing to assist you. This meeting can be a time for discussion of wishes and dreams for the future as well as the mechanics of disposition of assets. If a face-to-face meeting is not desired, then consider a written statement with any final wishes to be passed along to the family. This could be simply a letter sharing one’s feelings along with an explanation of the legal documents in place. However, be careful that statements made could not be interpreted as any change in one’s will or other testamentary plans. If you have questions, you should consult with your attorney.
Cynda C. Ottaway is a director at Crowe & Dunlevy and chair of the firm’s Private Wealth & Closely-Held Business Practice Group