There are a few important documents we should all keep in one place. Although we may think we’ll never need to use any of these documents, life
can introduce surprising twists and turns. Our wishes, preferences, and outlook on life can change over time so take the time to review/edit these
documents annually. These documents should be accessible in an emergency so tucking them away in a safe deposit box is not always a good idea.
Original documents need to be kept safe since a court may not accept copies or digital files, and the best place is a fire-proof box or safe in your own
home. The trusted individuals that you appoint in your estate documents, as well as your financial advisor, accountant and attorney should have
copies along with knowledge of where the originals are stored. Also provide trusted individuals with account logins, passwords, and keys to your
safe deposit box.
HIPAA Authorization Form (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996):
HIPAA was established to ensure your health information is protected and that you can easily access your medical records. A HIPAA authorization form is a document that allows an appointed person or group to share specific health information with another person or group. A description of the information that will be used/disclosed, the purpose and the name/ entity to whom the information will be disclosed should be included. Additional information can be found here.
Healthcare Proxy (Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare):
A healthcare proxy is a legal document that designates someone to make healthcare decisions on your behalf if you are incapacitated. Make sure you communicate your wishes, definition of quality of life, and end-of-life decisions to the person you select. You can find additional information here.
Living Will (Advance Healthcare Directive):
A living will is a set of instructions that specify the actions that should be taken if you are no longer able to communicate or make those decisions for yourself. Essentially a Living Will acts as a blueprint of your desires regarding medical treatment, such as resuscitation, medical ventilator and/or artificial nutrition, for example. Alone, it is not a legally binding document, but it provides direction to your healthcare Proxy regarding your wishes for care, your preferences, the kind of medical treatment you want or don't want, and what you want your loved ones to know if you are seriously ill. It can also provide any direction on organ donation. This document can help lessen the burden on your loved ones who may be left guessing what your wishes were and help guide a healthcare proxy's decisions. A Living Will has nothing to do with distribution of property in case of death. See Last Will and Testament.
Last Will and Testament:
A last will and testament designates beneficiaries of a person's property after they die. A personal property memorandum provides a rundown of who gets what, including items and amounts. The executor is the nominated individual or institution that is responsible for overseeing and carrying out the will's details. A legal guardian can also be nominated for a minor child in the event of a parent's death. Separate individuals can be nominated for a child's personal care and management of the child's assets. A will does not affect life insurance, retirement plans or any financial accounts that have pre-assigned beneficiaries. Community property and joint assets with right of survivorship would transfer to a spouse. Under the Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act, in most states any digital assets (such as emails, social media accounts and documents stored online) follow directions in a will, but they have to be mentioned in a Digital Assets Memorandum or access will be based on the terms and conditions for that website/service. You can learn more about digital assets here.
A living trust is a legal document where a designated person, the trustee, is given responsibility for managing a person’s assets while they’re still alive.
Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) Form:
A DNR form is a legally binding document that mandates that resuscitation not be attempted, in case of cardiac or respiratory arrest, which may require intubation or CPR. A DNR does not affect any treatment such as chemotherapy, antibiotics, dialysis, etc. It's important to know that Advance Healthcare Directives and Living Wills are not accepted by Emergency Medical Services, as legally valid forms. If you have a Living Will stating you do not wish to be resuscitated, but you do not have a state-sponsored DNR form (each state has its own) co-signed by a physician, an EMT will attempt resuscitation in an emergency. Additional information can be found here here.
Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST):
A POLST is both a process and a form that translates a patient's goals for care into medical orders to be followed by all healthcare providers. POLST is a legal document that allows physicians to assess and convey the wishes of patients who are frail or have a serious illness. It can also be used in a medical emergency. Once completed and signed by the physician, it becomes a physician's standing order and part of your medical record. Additional information can be found here.
Organ Donor Designation
As an organ donor you can leave behind the gift of life by signing up on your state registry. You can choose what organs and tissues you want to donate and update your status at any time. Checking off the organ donor box on your driver's license is unfortunately not enough, and your family could override this. You can learn more about organ donation here.
Benefits and Policies:
It can be difficult to track down benefits and policies when you need them so be sure to keep them all in one place. A few benefits may include: