As we all age, it is extremely important to review a number of legal matters that may affect how you leave things behind, the level of care you receive, and how decisions are made when you are not able to make those decisions. Living wills, powers of attorney, and instructions pertaining to life sustaining treatments are all complex legal issues that the majority of the aging population will have to deal with.
This information is meant as a brief introduction of things seniors should think about. For more complete information on the subjects covered – and to find out about laws specific to your province – talk with your lawyer.
Advanced Health Care Directives (Living Wills)
This critical document provides specific instructions on the types of medical intervention and long-term care choices to be made on a person’s behalf in the event he/she is unable to make decisions due to illness or incapacity.
Advance directives come in two forms which are a Living Will and Power of Attorney. A Living Will provides specific instructions on the health care treatment that should be provided. A Power of Attorney for health care (there is also a Power of Attorney for Finance), which appoints a person to make decisions on the individual’s behalf when the individual is incapacitated.
It is recommended that both forms of advance directives are put into place. Seniors should discuss them with their loved ones and give copies to family members, their doctor and other trusted individuals to ensure that the instructions are followed.
Wills and Trusts
Wills outline who receives personal possessions when someone passes away. Wills can prevent conflicts for family members and often save time and money in legal fees. If you do not have a will, your assets could be distributed according to applicable law. Many estate attorneys suggest that both spouses have a will and update it regularly to reflect changes in the estate.
Trusts come in several types, including a living trust and can avoid probate (in which a court decides settlement and tax value of an estate), to help care for a dependent family member, and to assist in estate and tax planning.
Power of Attorney
Power of Attorney is a legal document that gives someone else the right to act on your behalf. The Office of the Public Guardian and Trustee has a Power of Attorney Kit that will help you appoint the person you want to make decisions for you when you are no longer able to do so for yourself. For financial decisions, legal authority is needed. You can give this authority by naming someone in a continuing power of attorney for property.
For personal care decisions such as where you live or what you eat, you can give legal authority by naming someone in a power of attorney for personal care. If no Power of Attorney is appointed, a court can appoint a power of attorney after the individual becomes incapacitated.
Gathering Important Information
Given all the issues and challenging situations that may arise, seniors should consider organizing their important documents such as medical, financial and other personal information so it can be easily accessed in the event of a medical emergency or other crisis situation.
The following is a list of information that is recommended to have organized for the convenience of your loved ones:
- Birth certificate
- Social Insurance Number
- Life insurance information, including policy number
- Names and addresses of family physician and medical specialists as well as information on hospital admissions and dates of office visits and other medical history.
- Special arrangements made for health care, including advance directives
- Funeral prearrangements
- Trust documents
- Sources of income and assets
- Bank statements and safe deposit box locations
- Mortgage papers
- Investment records
- Negotiable securities
- Credit card information
- Most recent income tax return
- Loan papers