Preparing for Certainty


by Terry Hogan


There are few certainties in life.  We all hear the same thing - death and taxes.  This article is not about taxes.  It seems that the most important talks are the ones hardest to do, and therefore the most easy to put off. Sex discussions with a son or daughter, or preparation for death are a couple that come to mind.  I'm not talking about sex (that may have cost me a few readers).


Oddly enough, we are grow older each day, until we stop.  And if we stop, we're probably not reading this, and the article is too late at that point to be of much use anyway.  LetŐs face it, medical treatment and life extension capabilities expand daily.  So does our legal system and the inclination for somebody to run to the court and file a legal action.


We know death is coming to each of us.  It may arrive today, tomorrow, next year, or decades away.  It comes in two ways - quickly or slowly.  Who knows better than you how you want your last days to be handled?  Who knows better than you how you would like your estate and family heirlooms to be distributed?  Do you want the court to make those decisions, or do you want to face reality and make preparations?  


A Will

I'm not an attorney and I do not offer legal advice. But you do need a will.  If it is an old will, do you know where it is? Look at it.  Does it need revision?  If so, take it to a trusted lawyer and have it updated.  If you don't have a family lawyer, ask friends you trust for recommendations. A will can be very simple or very complex.  It is determined mostly by two things - your desires and the size of your estate. Don't put the only copy of the will in a bank lock box. The key may not be found or it may be sealed because of your death for some period of time. Speak to your lawyer about the distribution of the will.


A "Living Will" and Power of Attorney for Health Care Decisions

These may go by different names, and the text may vary from state to state.  But the purpose of the Living Will is to state your preference for the degree of life sustaining actions you want to have, if you are unable to make that decision clear when the need arises.  Typically there are standard forms that you can fill in the pertinent information such as your name, address, date. Below these data is a list of Ňmenu optionsÓ for the level of medical treatment you want. The choice is yours to make. You typically just have to mark a box next to the choice you prefer.  Not doing this, i.e. not making a decision, is a decision.  You are deciding to push this hard choice to the nearest kin who is less prepared to know your wishes than you are.  Do you want someone else to have to bear the burden of that decision?  If your answer is that it is your decision, fill out a form and place copies with your hospital, your family doctor and your nearest relative.  It does no good to fill one out and stick it in an obscure place at your home where nobody will find when it is needed. 


The power of attorney for health care decisions establishes who you are empowering to make decisions in regard to your health care when you are unable to do so.  Obviously this is an important decision and should be discussed with the person before you complete the paperwork.  This is not a good surprise to give someone after you are in the hospital and unable to communicate your wishes.  Your choice should be someone you trust to carry out your wishes and someone who appears to have a good probability of outliving you.


If you have already completed these forms, but it was done when you lived in another state, you may want to do it over, using the standard forms for the current state you live in.  State law differences might affect the validity of the out-of-state forms.


Where do you get the forms?  Call your family physician's office or the local hospital that you go to.  Chances are they will have these forms available, and will suggest where you should place copies so they are available if the need arises. If all else fails, call your lawyer.


 Important Family Items

Most families have some items of emotional importance, e.g. family history items.  These items should be identified and your wishes for distribution should be made.  If they have substantial economic value, then perhaps they should be listed in the will.  Ask you attorney.  If they have no real economic value but are important to the family, you may want to make a list of items, in sufficient detail that the items can be clearly identified, and specify next to the item who you want to leave the item to. Again, if you think it may be a quarrelsome decision, talk to the attorney about adding it to the will.  After you have made the list, sign it, date it, and place it with the will. This makes your wishes clear, and will make it easier for the executor of your estate.


Of course, the other option, if you are elderly or facing a terminal illness, is to give those sentimental items to those you want while you are still able to.  I'm not advocating "giving away the farm", but maybe the old photo of great grandpa tilling the farm with a mule. 


Video Tape?

Depending upon the circumstances, you may want to consider making a video tape.  It shouldn't be a sad, tear-jerking thing, but rather addressing the joys and pleasures of your life that you might want to share.  It could be recollections of your youth, courtship and marriage or other stories that you might wish to pass on to children, grandchildren or even great grandchildren.  


Funeral Arrangements

You may want to make those in advance - pick a cemetery, a lot, a marker, etc.  You can then pre-pay and avoid having to have someone else make those decisions while under emotional stress.


Why this Article? 

There are several reasons why I wrote this article.  First, you probably need to be reminded.  We are all good at putting off what we don't want to do. Second, you owe it to your family and loved ones. Third, I just finished my Living Will and Power of Attorney for Health Care Decisions.  It didn't hurt.  If I can do it, so can you.  I didnŐt even need a shot of Novocain. 


Trust me, you'll feel better afterward. It's a little like walking out of the dentist office after having that checkup you had been putting off.  It makes you feel a little better about yourself.  In your heart, and in the back of your mind, you know you should be doing this. Times sneaks by.


It's a Certainty

Try it.  You'll like it. You'll fee better.  It's a Certainty.