Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Reminder Check Your Life Paperwork

Another year successfully completed. Another batch of Life paperwork processed, sorted, and updated. Not ever heard of such a thing? Unsure what I'm speaking about or where to start? Check out what I said last year.

Ah, we have survived another year. What a blessing it is to be able to enter into another year of life. What will it bring? Will it be filled with joyous occasions or miserable moments? Are you prepared for either?

As I was waiting for a dear friend to join me for lunch at our favorite restaurant I couldn't help but to overhear a conversation of the neighboring table. There were 4 participants at it. Each was observed to be in a highly emotionally charged state. The looks of shock, grief, anger, and uncertainty even fear was very apparent.

As there conversation became more audible it was soon quite clear what the problem was. A family member had died suddenly and the party had met to discuss what to do about it. It was heart wrenching to know that some of their suffering could have been prevented if the deceased's life paperwork had been done and kept up to date. It brought up memories of my own experiences with death. I am no expert but I do understand the importance of clear instructions and legal documentation through life paperwork vs. muddle instructions, fanciful thinking, and no legal documentation or life paperwork.

When my friend showed up she had a large envelope that was rather over stuffed. Because of the natural curiosity such an unusual item in her possession brought out and the continued conversation that we were hearing from our neighboring table. Our topic of conversation turned to life paperwork.

While I won't bore you with the nitty gritty details of our discussion; I will share a few key points from it. See the large envelop was a part of her life's paperwork. Her current husband  has a yearly tradition of reviewing the life paperwork for them and some immediate family. She was a little unnerved by it the first year they did but as they have gone through the process for awhile now. She can really see the benefit of it. She's very zealous in encouraging others to do the same.

It's quite simple to do as she explained it to me. Every January they get out their wills, life insurance, medical information, titles, etc. and they review them together.  This way they make sure that everything is up to date and current. This way they can also make sure that any changes that need to be made are gotten done.

An excellent example she used was about a trust document and finacial guardianship for one of her children. There is a trust document that will have to be dealt with in March. Because of the review they did last week, they are aware that the attorney needs to be contacted and certain things must be done now in order not to miss its deadline. They also became aware that they needed to make a change for one of the children who is now in need of someone to handle their finances should my friend not be able to do it. Now is clearly the time to find someone else that could assist the child so the child doesn't run into horrible financial problems in the future. They need someone they can trust and who can be brought up to speed on the situation.  Again something that would more than likely been off their radar had it not been for the yearly review.

Another example of the yearly review involves my friends elderly mother. Her mom has been seriously ill and has a very complicated medical history. There is now a new doctor in the picture so my friend needs to update the medical contact information to include this new doctor. They also must find a new POA because of her father's ill health. He's no longer the best choice as the main POA. Little things they may appear now. But not so little in the midst of a crisis. Suddenly you could either be frozen with too many decisions to make, kicking yourself for not doing something or for having done something you regret or breathing a sigh of relief.

That is why checking your  life paperwork is so important. Look at your life paperwork as being a smoke detector of sorts. It's got a very important job to do for you. Just like a smoke detector you want it to work properly before and when you need it. So pick a time to do it and repeat it regularly. Maybe it would be helpful to pick a reoccurring event to jog your memory to get it done. Think about how you may use daylight savings to check the batteries in your smoke detector. If the batteries aren't ready to work then the smoke detector can't do it's job. If your life paperwork isn't current or correct then you or someone could have a very nightmarish situation to handle.

 Some people use tax time as they are already dealing with paperwork then to check their life's paperwork which is what my friend's sister does. Some like my friend picks the beginning of the year which happens to be January for the reoccurring reminder to check this paperwork. Or maybe, it would be better to use a birthday or anniversary or another date that is significant to you. 

If you can't bring yourself around to do this, consider what you want for your loved ones. Or consider what you would want someone to have done for you if you were put into x scenario with a, b, c resources? Its far kinder to be prepared even slightly than left adrift in a sea of uncertainity.

So what does your life's paperwork look like? What your Life Paperwork looks like can and should vary greatly from person to person, situation to situation. After all not every situation can be carbon copied or cookie cutter made nor should it be.

Here are somethings to think about including from what my friend and I have done along with the experiences I've had. 

Your Life's Paperwork might contain:

Guardians Here is something that should be reviewed periodically. Does the need still exist? Is the chosen person still willing and able to do it? 
Life Insurance
Titles or verification of ownership to vehicles, property, accounts, etc.
Location of important documents such as birth certificates, social security cards, passports, wills, policies, etc.

Important medical information to include in your life paperwork can vary greatly and be highly unique per person. Some are obvious like insurance card and doctors phone # and address. Others might not be quite as obvious like vitamins or alternative practices that you use (Acupressure/Acupuncture, Chiropractic, etc.) Here are few that I have seen or have in my life paperwork.

Medical diagnosis
current medications being taken
current supplements being taken
medications that were discontinued between visits to the doctor
same with supplements
medications that have been questionable or uncertain 

ex. I can take a specific allergy medication when my allergies flair up but when I do I become like the Energizer bunny. I tend to be on the move and unable to sit or stay still for periods longer than a minute and I have a very high pulse rate. It's not an allergy but it is something the doctors need to be aware of that happens so they don't think something else is happening if I have taken this particular medication.

Situations that could be handled in certain ways.

Don't allow the fear of  embarrassment or being seen as silly to stop you from speaking up. I am not sure if I'm claustrophobic  or if it's something else, but I intensely dislike being in situations where I am trapped. My first MRI was a horrible experience because of it. By mentioning it to the doctor the second time I had one it was a lot better because he was able to give me something to take the edge off. The staff seemed to give me more of a blow by blow and count down as to what was happening and that made all the difference. One staff worker even mentioned how she wished more people would be so frank. Another said it would be beneficial for family members to know because it can make a difference between someone resisting a test because of intoxication or head injury versus someone resisting because of claustrophobia and panic when they are unable to communicate. (the last was very obvious when a rather mild mannered family member who'd had a stroke became a brawler)

List of special words or phrases that might not be commonly or easily recognized that the patient uses

ex. someone who has speech impairment, stroke, or other reason that makes them hard to understand. Here's one from the immediate family the child has a hard time saying the word police. it comes out something like Koplise with a stong K beginning sound and a lot of hissing  s sound at the end. It makes absolutely no sense and is hard to copy. So to those outside the inner circle of family and friends. No one would get that the need for police is what was being requested.

Another example was observed by a family member who had a stroke with dementia. She would say car to indicate her desire to be moved in some way. Turned in bed, pushed closer to a table when in a wheelchair. Once it was figured out there was far less frustration for her, her caretakers and visitors. 

List of medical procedure with dates and locations. 
List of items put in. 
ex. Another family member has had a hernia surgery that required a piece of mesh to be put in to reinforce the body. Now that may not seem like a huge issue but with the advancement and popularity of using a scope to do surgery these days it's an issue. Especially if they want to go near the bellybutton.

Medical testing. List the type, date, location here to.

Next of kin in case of emergency.
Alternate in case of emergency contact. This is in case the 1st person can't be reached immediately.
Advanced Medical Directive form sometimes called 5 Wishes.
Medical POA who has it? where is it located? Does the person listed still able to be in charge? This is very important to review periodically.

Having witnessed or experienced first hand a situation where simply having a will, being aware of a doctors name, having an up to date POA, etc could have made a world of difference. I see the value in what my friend is doing. Suddenly that large envelope seemed as an extremely important, valuable treasure chest and our lunch date less.

So please take a moment and make sure that your life's paperwork is in order. I know it can be a challenge to remember to do this. After all who wants to entertain morbid thoughts of death, dying, illness? But trust me it's far better to take a moment now to do so than to not have done it and deal with a nightmare it can become.

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