According to the National Institute on Aging, “approximately 85% of older adults have at least one chronic health condition, and 60% have at least two chronic conditions.” Sadly, many people may plan for their assets and their beneficiaries, but they do not plan for their own care and well-being as they age. Some chronic conditions, malignant diseases, and injuries can lead to greater disability. While it isn’t pleasant, it is important for people to be realistic about what could happen in the future and put some thought into how to plan for their own incapacity. Plan as if it will happen to you. If it doesn’t, what a blessing! And if it does, you and your loved ones will be prepared. Here are some key ways you can prepare for incapacity:
Understand how your incapacity may affect you and your loved ones.
Start by considering who and what would be affected if you were not able to care for yourself. There would be ramifications on your life, such as the inability to live alone, the inability to care for others you may currently be caring for, and the inability to care for your pet(s). There will also be ramifications for your family, your friends, your community, and anyone who currently depends on you for any reason.
What would you need if you were incapacitated?
Someone to care for you physically and make medical decisions for you, someone to care for anyone or anything that is dependent upon you, and someone to manage your finances are a few of the most important needs you would have.
What would others need if you were incapacitated?
Others, particularly your immediate family and close friends, would need to know what kinds of medical and financial decisions you would make if you were making them yourself. They would also need to know things about your daily life, such as how to maintain your property or take care of your pet(s). If you have anyone who is dependent on you, they will need someone else to step into your role of caring for them.
By simply considering your life situation and relationships, you can foresee some of the needs that would arise should you be incapacitated. This leads to the next step, which is to create an official, legally binding incapacity plan.
Create a legal incapacity plan.
There are several legal documents you can put in place to ensure your loved ones will know what to do and that your wishes will be carried out should you become incapacitated. It is important that you create these documents now, because once you are incapacitated there is no way for you or anyone else to create them for you.
- Financial Power of Attorney: This document allows you to authorize someone else to make financial decisions for you. This person is referred to as your financial agent.
- Advance Medical Directive: This document allows you to select which types of medical care and treatment you want if you become incapacitated. It also allows you to designate a medical agent and empower them to make decisions for you if you are unable to do so yourself.
- Estate Plan: This plan is usually made up of several documents, such as trusts and wills, in which you articulate instructions for how your assets (your estate) will be distributed and who your beneficiaries will be when you die.
Create a practical plan to pair with your legal incapacity plan.
After your legal plan is in place, there are some practical steps you can take to make life easier for your loved ones.
- Create a community of professionals: In order to prevent abuse or neglect as you age, and to help provide resources for your loved ones in the future, it is best to create a community of professionals who can offer you their expertise. Professionals such as an attorney, a financial advisor, an accountant, and a care manager can work together and with your family to make sure you are cared for as you age, particularly in the event of your incapacity.
- Create an Estate Guide and Inventory: This non-legal document allows you to provide your family and agents with a list of your assets and important instructions about your estate, including funeral arrangements, online account information, and contact information for the professionals who can help them.
- Create an Ethical Will: This non-legal document is designed to pass on your values, beliefs, experiences, and advice to your loved ones. Having these thoughts in a tangible form for your loved ones will be a huge blessing to them if you become incapacitated or pass.
Have open conversations with your loved ones and agents.
Lastly, have a conversation with your loved ones and agents now about what you want in the future. Talk to the people in your life. Make sure you know who can bear which burdens and who is willing and able to be chosen to fill various roles if you need them to step in. Open discussions with your loved ones will make things much easier for them to know how to act in the future.
Not every disease or illness is debilitating, and not every aging adult will become incapacitated. But it is best to plan for the worst and hope for the best rather than be caught off guard and put yourself and your loved ones in a difficult situation. If you need help thinking through how to plan for incapacity, give us a call. We would love to help you.
Disclaimer: The information you obtain in this post is not, nor is intended to be, legal advice. This blog shares general best practices when navigating Virginia or West Virginia law, but you should consult an attorney for advice regarding your individual situation.