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Legal Check-up

What if right now, without any warning, your family had to take over your life? What would they find?

Do you have legal documents in place should you become disabled or die? How long has it been since someone reviewed them? What insurances do you have, and who knows where the policies are? Who knows you have a power of attorney, or a will, or a living will, and do they know where those documents are located and how to get to them? Where are your bank and financial accounts, and where are the records? Who do you want to handle your affairs, make business decisions for you, make decision about where you will live and how you will live, and what type of treatment and care you should receive?

To be honest, most of us do not have answers to many of these questions. And what we do know has been pieced together in a hodgepodge fashion. So let’s make a list of things to do, but lets do it in a way in which we can have a comprehensive plan.

The first steps should be to gather information and get a good handle on what we have. During the next 30 to 60 days, do the following:

1. Insurance: Take all of your insurance policies (health, disability, long term care, home, liability, automobile, supplemental, life and any others you have) to someone for a review. Do you have what you thought you had? Are there some policies that you can drop; others that may need to be increased; or even others you need to acquire?

2. Accounts/Investments/Stocks: Make a list of all of your accounts, investments and stocks, where they are located, the account numbers, the current values, how they are titled and the contact persons. Keep records of what you paid for your investments and stocks.

3. Deeds: be sure you have a copy of all the deeds to your properties. How are the titled? How will the property pass upon your death? How much did you pay for the property and what is it now worth? Are there records concerning improvements and costs associated with the property?

4. Titles: Keep all of your titles together. In whose name are they listed? What did you pay for each of the titled properties? What is the property now worth?

5.  Records: Get your bank statements, tax returns, financial reports, evidence of debts of money you owe or who owes you money, and put them together. Make copies or lists of your drivers license, credit cards, debit cards, social security cards, Medicare and Medicaid cards, insurance cards and such.

6. Important names: List the name, address and any other contact information of your accountant, doctor, lawyer, investment counselor, insurance agents, and bankers.

7.  Heirs: who are your heirs or beneficiaries in the event of your death? List their names, addresses, and other contact information.

You are ready for the next step: modifying or establishing your legal documents to address how to pay or plan for long term care, how to control your property should you become disabled, and plan how to pass your property and avoid probate. Armed with the above information, schedule a time to meet with an attorney specializing in elder law and long term care planning. Call the attorney right after you have completed steps 1 through 7 above.

1. Will/Trust: Now is the time to make a Will or Trust. If you already have one, now is the time to have it reviewed. Look for changes in the law, changes in your family situation, changes in your financial affairs, and changes in your health. Be sure to review how your property is titled to see if it fits with your plans. There is no reason to pay estate taxes, if you do planning.

2. General Durable Power of Attorney: If you do not have one, get it done. If you have one, have it reviewed. Be sure the person you want to have the power will really do it and that you have named at least one, if not two, back-ups. Does the POA have all the powers you want the person to have? Can that person plan for long term care, gift or engage in Medicaid Planning? Some powers can even survive your death. The POA should describe what constitutes a disability that will trigger the POA. Does it name who will be your conservator if one is appointed for you?

3. Health Durable Power of Attorney: Even if you have one, get it reviewed. Describe in it what is not an acceptable quality of life and if you do not have an acceptable quality of life, what type of services you would like to have withheld. Everyone will feel more comfortable in following written instructions.

Will the person you have nominated be willing to act for you? Who is the back-up? Put in the name of who you want to be as the guardian in the event guardianship proceedings are filed.

4. Living Will: Review it. If more than two years old, re-do it. Like the health care POA, explain what is and what is not acceptable to you. Put in it what services you do not want to be provided.

5. Long Term Care: Assume you are going to need long term care. Remember, there are three ways to pay for it: Pay with your own money, long term care insurance, or Medicaid.

The best way is to use a combination of all three. Many simply cannot afford to insure for long term care forever. A combination of using two or three of these solutions is the answer for many, which will allow you to stay in your home as long as possible, still protect your assets to care for your spouse or other family member, and will not cause you to go broke.

Be sure the attorney specializes in long term care counseling and planning. After you get all of this done, make a list of where all of this information is located. Give the list to your spouse, attorney or even your power of attorney.

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