In the past, most Americans lived their lives without any emergency plans. After 9/11, many people began to think about what they would do if there was a catastrophic event or terrorist attack in their town. These contingency plans included having food and water, batteries and other emergency gear. Families planned where they would meet and who would get the children. These plans have become necessary due to the current world culture. Although many of us have these plans in place for catastrophic events, most of us do not have contingency plans in place for the more common crisis in our lives.
What would those who depend on you do if you got hit by a bus, or had a stroke? What would you do if your parents were unable to take care of themselves? These situations happen every day and most of us do not have a plan in place. Unfortunately, without a plan, these events often become a crisis and families end up making rash decisions to deal with the crisis. Those who do have a plan in place are usually able to make better decisions because they have more time, information and resources.
All of us have preferences for handling emergencies, our finances, medical decisions, legal matters and end of life choices. The problem is that we often do not discuss them with anyone. It can be difficult to discuss these issues with our families, so often we just avoid the topic. Unfortunately, if we don’t discuss these topics, we won’t have the information necessary to make a well informed decision. If you are having a difficult time getting your loved one to talk about these issues, consider having an independent third party talk to you and your loved one. Sometimes a physician, attorney or an Aging Life Care Professional can be more effective in discussing these topics because they are considered to be a professional and there is no emotional history to overcome. No matter who leads this discussion, the focus should be on your loved one and how they would like these preferences carried out. It is important to get specific information now so if the time comes, there will be no question what your loved one wants you to do. Some of the topics you should address include:
a. Current medical providers – name and phone number
b. Current medical conditions
c. Current medication(s)
a. Power of Attorney
b. Living Will – give a copy to your physician
e. Location of legal documents
f. Verify the people appointed in legal documents have a copy
3. End of Life
a. Feelings about death
b. Is it important to die at home?
c. Burial or cremation preferences
d. Funeral/Memorial preferences – be specific!
4. Emergency Assistance
a. Who will be called first/second in the event of an emergency?
b. Is there someone local who can assist if family lives far away?
a. Location of bank/investment accounts
b. Location of safe box and keys
c. Location of financial documents
d. Who is monitoring bank & credit card statements
Statistically financial fraud is becoming more prevalent. Anyone who has a mailbox, writes a check, or has a credit card is a potential victim. To protect yourself, review your bank and credit card statements when they come in and report any unrecognized activity. Since elder adults are particularly vulnerable, it is a good idea to have the person who is nominated as Financial Power of Attorney or Successor Trustee to monitor these statements as well. Financial fraud comes in many forms, so keep track of your finances and be careful who has access to your financial information.
Once you have the information, share it with anyone who could be responsible for making these decisions. If you are geographically distant from your loved one, look for a local resource to be available for emergencies. A local Aging Life Care Professional can be an invaluable resource in putting together a contingency plan. The Life Care Professional not only knows the local resources, but often can be available on an emergency basis to get things stabilized while family is in route. The Life Care Professional can also take a proactive roll, making recommendations to help prevent potential crisis or monitoring unstable situations.
Whether you work with a Life Care Professional or do it yourself, take the time to put a contingency plan in place. It will give you and your loved one a peace of mind knowing you have a plan in place for an emergency. You may never need it, but it is good to know it is there if you do!