Legal Papers

My sisters and I are caring for our parents who are near the end of their lives. Please give me an idea of the legal papers that must be in order as my family goes through this difficult situation.

Cindy in Virginia, 65

You’d be surprised at how many elderly pass away without their legal papers in order. As a care giver, it is vital that you take on that responsibility. These papers include their birth certificate, marriage certificate, social security card, passport, and driver’s license. They should all be in original condition.

Gather your elder’s will and make sure it is up to date. Many times I’ve come across wills that are terribly outdated and leave behind unintentionally hurt family members. Often times there is no will to be found. This sets in motion an entire set of other, difficult circumstances including higher estate taxes since the state government takes over the estate.

Execute a health care proxy so everyone understands your elder’s health care wishes. Also, a durable power of attorney and do not resuscitate order should be taken care of. The former assigns someone, usually a close family member like you or one of your sisters, the right to decide various financial, legal, and medical issues if one of your parents is no longer competent. A do not resuscitate order is just that, a legal document that does not allow anyone to revive them if they stop breathing, etc. Also, have a document drawn up that provides a clear understanding of how they want their medical needs met. Many families engage in heated debates about this. Don’t leave it open to debate. Do your parents want their organs to be donated? Do they want to be cremated? If so, write it down.

Most elderly are much more comfortable dealing with death than we are. Legal papers are a way for your elder to tidy up their life. They often get very personal with their last wishes if they are allowed to. Listen to their wishes. It’s usually the little things that bring them the most joy, such as giving a signed baseball to a favorite grandson. Have their funeral arrangements in place ahead of time when possible, including where they want their remains, what type of ceremony they desire, and what they want chiseled on their tombstone. Having your parents’ legal papers in order gives everyone involved important peace of mind so everyone can enjoy their final days as much as possible.

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