What's simple to create, easy to store and vitally important, yet millions of Americans don't have it? Stumped? The answer is...a will. I am not an attorney, nor do I play one on television so before you take my word on anything you're about to read, double check with YOUR attorney. You do have one, don't you?
It's estimated that 50 to 75 percent of Americans haven't prepared a will and if that's not shocking enough, even fewer have bothered to prepare durable and medical powers of attorney or healthcare directives. These documents are so important and a family medical emergency is stressful enough without scrambling to create your documents on the fly during a crisis.
Maybe you're waiting until you're "old" to make a will. I'd guess that's pretty common strategy, but that'll only work IF you get old! Every day across the world, young people have accidents, sudden illnesses, and other serious health issues, so gambling that you'll actually get old is just that. A gamble.
We don't like to dwell on it, but the truth is that we'll all die someday and most of us don't know when that day will be. Creating a will is a loving act that when taken care of in advance,makes a very difficult time a lot easier for your loved ones. Why add legal heartache to their grief when you can prevent it?
Along with a will, you should also have a durable power of attorney, a medical power of attorney, and an advance directive.
A durable (or enduring) power of attorney gives another person (called your "agent") legal authority to engage in specifically listed transactions on your behalf and make decisions in your stead should you become incapacitated. Note: A general power of attorney does not authorize another person to make decisions for you, but only to carry out decisions you've already made and it's important to remember that all powers of attorney terminate upon the principal's death.
A medical power of attorney gives someone you trust the legal authority to make healthcare decisions on your behalf should you become incapacitated.
An advance directive is simply that -- a document which records your advance decisions regarding life-saving or life-prolonging procedures. It's another name for a Living Will, which specifies whether and what kind of life-prolonging procedures you would like if you should become terminally ill and unable to communicate. Ideally, whomever you choose as your agent for the medical power of attorney should be apprised of your advance directive and know what your end-of-life wishes are.
None of these documents are difficult to prepare but all are very important and the lives of your loved ones. Remember, getting organized doesn't just mean cleaning out your closets periodically and keeping your home and office clutterfree... it also involves taking responsibility for the important pieces of your life and taking steps to prevent unnecessary work or trouble in advance.
If you are one of the millions of Americans without a will, powers of attorney and a healthcare directive, I urge you to put "contact an attorney for vital document prep" on your list of things to do next week. Even if you just have a phone conversation, at least get that ball rolling. When it's done, pat yourself on the back and know that your family will have a lot less to worry about should the unthinkable happen.