Posted on Monday, November 28, 2011

When an emergency happens, many seniors are often without the most important legal documents that they need to protect themselves and their families. Perhaps the documents were prepared sometime in the past but were then, unknown to family members, tucked away in unusual locations, like an empty coffee can or hidden under a mattress!

These vital documents provide peace of mind, ensure that your wishes are protected, and allow you (or your appointed representative) to stay in control when health and life changes begin to happen. Once these documents are prepared, be sure to store them in a safe, known place, such as a bank safe deposit box or other secure locations. Also tell a trusted family member, friend or professional where your documents are stored, in the event of an emergency.

4 Legal Must-Have Documents

There are four key legal documents that all seniors should have:

1. The durable power of attorney: this very common document gives a person designated by you, the power to perform legal transactions and sign legal documents, on your behalf. This includes buying or selling your home, car or other personal property; making bank deposits or withdrawals; and paying your bills and keeping track of your paperwork.

2. The health care power of attorney or health care proxy: this document allows your health care wishes to be directed by a trusted proxy member, who is typically a family member, friend or professional. This person will be able to access your medical records and act as your advocate, which is very important, especially during a hospital stay. This document only takes effect after you have been determined unable to make decisions for your own health care.

3. The advance directive (such as a living will): these are written instructions to tell doctors and loved ones the level of medical care you want to receive, or not receive, in a medical emergency should you be unable to communicate your own desires. This includes feeding tubes and ventilators. Not every state accepts the same form(s) for this document. Therefore, check with your state to be sure that you are using the proper forms required by your state.

4. The DNR, or do not resuscitate order: this document states that you do not want actions such as CPR or intubation in the event your heart or breathing stops. This document should be kept in an easily seen location such as your bedroom or refrigerator door so that emergency medical staff and others know to honor your wishes.

To get more information about these key legal documents, an elder care attorney is a good place to begin. Some documents such as the advance directives, living wills or health care proxy do not require an attorney to process, and resources for them can be found online.

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