Do your family and loved ones a favor and get your important papers together and accessible for them. None of us plans to get sick or end up hospitalized, but it happens. Planning for medical care in advance eases the many burdens when there is a medical emergency. Where do you begin?
Begin with either completing or gathering certain documents that are categorized as health, legal, personal and financial records. Following this step, we’ll talk about where to keep these documents and what else has to be done, so this information can be readily accessed in an emergency. You’ll also want to give your advocate permission (signed consent) in advance, so your caregivers can share the necessary information for making healthcare decisions. Things run smoother if you establish someone in advance to manage your personal, legal and financial situations.
Step 1: Complete or gather the following records
1. First start out with your health documents. Everyone should assign a health care agent and complete a health proxy form. This legal document does not require a lawyer; you can fill it out on your own – making sure you have two witnesses for your signature. Your assigned healthcare agent can make decisions about your medical care, including life-sustaining treatment if you are unable to do so. In some circumstances, people may also choose to complete a Living Will or MOLST (Medical Order for Life-Sustaining Treatment) form. It helps to seek a consultant’s advice with these forms, and a MOLST form requires a physician’s signature. As an added safeguard for your health, I always recommend that my clients maintain their own health records. For more details, visit my website for previous archived articles on the subjects of Advance Care Planning and How to Help the Healthcare System Help You.
2. Next be sure to address the legal matters. Visit your lawyer to complete your will, a trust, and establish power of attorney, either general or durable, which allows someone else to act on your behalf. Discuss with your lawyer the steps to avoid waiting for probate.
3. Personal Records may already be completed, but you should gather these together and make copies. The list includes such documents as:
Step 2: Location of your records
After you have gathered all the above records, you’ll want to file them in one place. Store them in a safe location in your home (fireproof safe, file cabinet, etc.) or a safe deposit box. In addition to the documents and copies, make an outline that includes the key information for each item such as an insurance company name, address, phone numbers and the agent. It is helpful to have copies of important cards such as Medicare and insurance cards, birth certificates, marriage licenses; these items are often requested.
Plan ahead and make sure you have designated someone to manage your finances; for instance, assign someone who can write checks for you. This person’s name is to be added to your accounts with your banks or other financial institutions. If you are hospitalized, someone needs to pay the bills and have access to your funds to carry out your care.
Specifically for your health records, it is best to make copies of your health proxy form and other advance directives and provide these to your physician, family members, healthcare agent, etc. In an emergency the EMS staff will look for information on a person’s refrigerator. It is best to keep the actual health forms on the refrigerator or instructions as to where they are located. Especially if you live alone, it is advisable to invest in a medical alert; it can save your life.
Step 3: Be sure to talk to people about the records
Many times people have drawn up wills and filled out health proxy forms and they file them away, not telling anyone where they are located. Surprisingly enough, some people fail to even let others know that they have assigned them as the healthcare agent or power of attorney. It is important to have the conversation – not only about your health care wishes, but also about your financial and legal concerns. Obviously, it is imperative to choose a trustworthy family member or friend.
These steps are especially valuable if you are an older adult. In order for someone to advocate for you and make decisions, it’s important to get your records in order and make them accessible. When people are admitted to a hospital, rehabilitation center, nursing home, or home care service numerous records are required and it helps to make it less cumbersome for your loved ones, who already have to deal with the critical circumstances of your medical condition.