Start of a New Year
Words by: Bryon Gragg
Published November/December 2011
It is hard to believe another new year is upon us. I’m starting to believe that it is true that time goes faster as you age. The beginning of the new year is always time for reflection of prior years as well as planning for the future.
Developing a plan for the coming year, as well as the years ahead, is simply a matter of determining what needs to be done and then breaking it down into smaller steps to accomplish those goals. In following the Boy Scout motto of “Be Prepared,” there is substantial peace of mind gained by knowing that you have all your affairs in order should something unexpected occur.
The basic document most of us need is a will. A will is a legal document that provides for the distribution of your property and names a person or persons to administer the transition. The will needs to be completed while you are competent or have the appropriate mental capacity. If there isn’t a will in existence when you die, the distribution of your assets is determined by state law. This may be a different scenario than you anticipated or desired.
A will should be examined during every significant life change such as the birth of a child, marriage and divorce. While it may not be necessary that changes be made, it is best to make sure everything is covered and correct. Since you never know when you will take the last bus out, it is imperative to have your will in place should something happen quickly and unexpectedly.
Another important document is the power of attorney. A power of attorney, or POA, is a legal document that gives someone the authority to act on your behalf if you become incapacitated. Accidents and disabilities can cause you to be incapacitated temporarily while other long-term diseases such as Alzheimer’s can require a permanent position as power of attorney. The power of attorney expires when you do or when you revoke it. Again, you must be competent to sign the power of attorney. If you wait until the onset of Alzheimer’s or when dementia is too far advanced for you to be deemed competent or should you be incapacitated by an accident, you’ve waited too late.
A Health Care Power of Attorney and Declaration of a Desire for a Natural Death are two other important documents for you to consider and are known as advance directives. The Health Care Power of Attorney appoints a person to act on your behalf for medical needs while the Declaration of a Desire for a Natural Death directs that if you are in a persistent vegetative state or terminal condition, your physician may withhold artificial nutrition and hydration. This is also sometimes known as a Living Will. In selecting your Health Care Power of Attorney,issues such as location of the POA, age and relationship are important. This needs to be someone who can be close and who can assist in making the required health care decisions on your behalf. The Health Care POA could be invoked if you are unconscious following an accident, unable to communicate due to Alzheimer’s or if your treatment needs change while under anesthesia.
With all of these documents, it is important to name a successor or alternative representative. Life changes pretty quickly and it is always good to have a backup in place should your first representative be unable or unwilling to serve. Good communication with any representative helps the process. While having it written down is preferable, there are discussions you can have with your representative to let him or her know your wishes.
While making these decisions and having these conversations are sometimes difficult, it pays off when the time comes by relieving your family and friends from having to make decisions for you without knowing your wishes. Having a plan in place also provides peace of mind currently by knowing that your loved ones won’t have to deal with a lot of issues when you are not here and that your wishes will be carried out.
The start of a new year provides promises and opportunities for the future. Take some time and make sure you are prepared with your plan. Once it is done, you can move on with the peace of mind that all is handled and fill your life with more enjoyable activities.