How do we prepare to have our legal and health wishes followed if there is no family, relatives, or friends willing or competent to take on those responsibilities? Are we willing to have a court decide what is to become of us and our affairs? I assume that the answer is, "No." Being at the mercy of an anonymous judge in probate court is not where most of us would choose to find ourselves.
That means there are certain basic steps that should be taken while we remain in full control of our facilities and decision-making abilities. There are documents to be prepared and someone to be selected to implement our wishes. Since I am not a lawyer, anything I say comes from my own experiences and Internet research. As the saying goes, check with an attorney before proceeding.
Let's start with some of the legal stuff that can be the foundation of your future care. I won't go into too much detail, but if something seems as if you should have this, I will provide a few links at the end of the post. Plus, the Internet has all sorts of reliable resources to find out more.
1) Will. This should be the first document you prepare (or have prepared for you). It is the legal framework for what happens to your possessions and financial resources upon your death. It specifies who gets what and when. Wills can be prepared using a simple online form or from forms available in office supply stores. Online places, like Legal Zoom, are places to look. A lawyer can draw up a will as well. This is best if your situation is a little more complicated.
2) Living Will. This document is the one that helps spell out the medical care you want prior to your death but when you are unable to communicate your wishes. Do you want or not want a feeding tube used? Do you want a "Do Not Resuscitate" order for medical workers, and when should it be invoked? How about devices that keep you alive when the medical likelihood of recovery is minimal?
These are very tough subjects to think about, but imagine how much more stressful and difficult it would be for someone else to make these decisions without knowing your wishes.
3) Power of Attorney. This document gives some other person or entity the ability to make medical and financial decisions for you. You can revoke and rewrite a POA as many times as you want.
3) Durable Power of Attorney. This is what takes the place of the Power of Attorney document upon your incapacitation or death. The person or entity named is fully responsible for all decisions that involve your care and finances.
4) Health Directives. Basically, this acts as a Durable Power of Attorney directive, though it only deals with health decisions, not financial ones.
There are other ways to handle your affairs, such as putting possessions in trusts or estates, but those topics are too involved for this article. In essence, they create a separate legal entity for all your possessions and resources. I urge you to do some research if this seems like something you'd like to know more about.