I’m going to take this first month of the year to talk to you about the paperwork you need to have. Now that you are entering the last era of life, we have to look at getting our paperwork in order. There is some important legal paperwork that Seniors need to have organized. And the second part of our paperwork is that we need to let our family know that it is taken care of and where it is located.
Most of what is discussed in this post are items that we don’t want to think about. They all revolve around things that are needed in case we become incapacitated or die. Not a topic for everyday discussion, but one that needs to be addressed and taken care of. I look at it this way – do these once, get them over and done with while I’m still alive and well, and then they are done and don’t have to add stress to times when things are going downhill and they are needed.
A Listing of Legal Paperwork Seniors Need
The first piece of legal paperwork that Seniors need to have, as well as everyone really, is a birth certificate. You may think you have this and there are no problems but nowadays you need one with the seal of the registrar on it. Most of the older birth certificates are missing this and unless you’ve gotten a passport in the last 20 years, you may need to update this birth certificate. To do this, you need to contact the county where it was issued and ask for a copy. There will probably be a nominal fee for this to be done. It can be done by phone or over the internet. You will probably need this in the near future, if not already, to make any air travel plans.
Wills and Testaments
The next critical piece of legal paperwork that Seniors need – again should be done by all adults – is to have a notarized will and testament. Here again, this can be done online or you can use a local lawyer of your choice. Even if you think you have no assets, a will should be put into place. It’s amazing how children can argue about who gets a fancy pillow or a picture if things like this aren’t spelled out. Certainly, if you own a home, car, or other possessions, the disposition of these needs to be specified. Otherwise, the state comes in and does a probate of all assets and determines how they are to be dispersed. Naturally, they will charge a fee for doing this and you may find their way of taking care of this is just to sell everything outright and divide it up among heirs.
I encourage all Seniors to start giving away possessions while they are still alive to the children they want to have them. One can also add a note called a ‘codicil’ to a will listing possessions and who they are to go to. This is especially good to have if you have valued objects ‘d art, jewelry, or expensive electronics along with a variety of recreational vehicles and expensive hobby items.
A will allows for distribution of all property to be done on a timely basis while without a will, or being called ‘intestate’ there must be notices placed in newspapers advertising for possible heirs. These would need to be placed in all locations the person has lived and makes the whole process drag out for lengthy periods of time.
If your estate has considerable assets, you might want to look into setting up a trust. When a trust is in place, one item that needs to be stipulated is that the dwelling that you as a Senior is living in should pass to the trust at the time of your death. This can also include other items that are currently being used. You will need legal and possibly accounting professional help to set up a trust. Assets over $400,000 would benefit from being placed in a trust fund. This helps to minimize inheritance taxes upon your death. Trusts may be made revocable or irrevocable as you chose.
Durable Power of Attorney
This is another piece of legal paperwork that seniors need to have in place. A durable power of attorney that you choose and appoint will be able to pay your bills and make decisions even if you become incapacitated. This prevents homes from going into foreclosure if a mortgage isn’t paid on time because you had a stroke or are on a ventilator in the hospital following a surgery. The person designated needs to know of the appointment and what bills and financial obligations they will be responsible for. This is information that needs to be kept updated with them.
Health Care Proxy
Along with the durable power of attorney, depending on where you live, other legal paperwork that seniors need, maybe a health care proxy. This person is responsible for making health care decisions for you if you are unable to make them yourself. This can include continuing or stopping life support. This, in some states, is included with the durable power of attorney.
Living Will or Advance Healthcare Directive
Going along with the health care proxy, another piece of legal paperwork that seniors need is a living will. This is paperwork that expresses your wishes regarding health care decisions that you wish to be carried out, including starting or remaining on life support systems. In families, having your wishes spelled out, will often times take any guilt away from those having the responsibility for making those decisions. It also gives your physician guidance in how you are to be treated if you’re unable to make decisions. In addition to life support, the living will also usually includes whether you want to receive nourishment by tube feedings, receive antibiotics, and pain-relieving medications even if by doing any of these, life is extended.
Other Legal Paperwork Seniors Need
The next group of legal paperwork that Seniors need to have organized and available in one place are not as focused on our incapacity and death but are still necessary. Here a listing of the legal paperwork that seniors need is fairly self-explanatory.
- Property Deeds or Mortgage Papers (who holds the mortgage and a yearly balance).
- Life Insurance policies – again who issued these and for what amounts. This should include phone numbers to be contacted when a payout is due.
- Titles of vehicles or liens on same and who holds those and the yearly balance due.
- Cemetery Deeds – which cemetery and which plots.
- Pre-paid funeral costs – Where and how much is paid. These are items you can pre-pay including choosing caskets, burial chambers, gravestones, funeral proceedings, and wishes, etc.
- Annuities with death benefits – who holds them and a contact person in case of death.
- A list of all utility providers that need to be canceled upon death. Usually, heat, electric, sewer, and water are continued in homes if they are being put up for sale. If going to a beneficiary, these need to be transferred to their names.
- Insurance policies for real estate and vehicles need to be canceled or carried up to the time of disposition. Who holds the policies and the contact person to be notified.
- Veterans Benefits – who to contact. Usually, the funeral people will be able to help the family with this.
- Bank accounts – Bank names, account #’s, and yearly estimates of account holdings plus any family member named on the account.
- Passports and Social Security need to be notified.
- All those subscriptions (magazines and newspapers) and charities that constantly mail you need to receive notification of a death.
Discussing legal paperwork that seniors need with the family.
This is a long list of paperwork that seniors need to have in place. And actually, what is listed here is not just for seniors, but for every adult. Too often though, we don’t think about what is needed until we approach the last era of life. When you’re going through getting these items in order, now is a very good time to discuss these with family. They need to know the plans you have made. But at the same time, this is a great opportunity to stress the importance to them of having the same items in place for themselves. Death is one of those visitors that sneaks up on any of us unannounced. Plans in place can make it easier for those left behind.
Storing Legal Paperwork that Seniors Need
Now, the last thing for all this legal paperwork that seniors need, is where to keep it all. The designated executor of your will should have a copy of the will and a list of all other documents that are already in place. Along with this, the person designated as durable power of attorney and health care proxy should have copies of these. A fireproof safe is a good location for storing all documents but here again, someone in the family should have a key or combination. Some choose to put the information in safe deposit boxes. You must remember that this information will not be available to anyone evenings, weekends, and holidays. If it could be needed at these times, don’t store it at the bank. Your physician should have a copy of your living well and health care proxy.
An expanding file is a good place to place all items that will be needed and then let someone in the family know where to find it.
Though Deeds and vehicle titles might better be in a fireproof safe or safe deposit box.
Guess that’s enough to keep you busy for the rest of the month. Do make sure these items are all in place and then you don’t have to think about them again. It’s done!
Love, Hugs, and Prayers,