Ben has been married for 47 years. He always managed the family's money. But since his stroke, Ben can't walk or talk. His wife, Shirley, feels overwhelmed. Of course, she's worried about Ben's health. But on top of that, she has no idea what bills should be paid or when they are due.
Across town, 80-year-old Louise lives alone. One night, she fell in the kitchen and broke her hip. She spent a week in the hospital and 2 months in a rehabilitation nursing home. Even though her son lives across the country, he was able to pay her bills and handle her Medicare questions right away. That's because, several years ago, Louise and her son made a plan about what he should do in case Louise had a medical emergency.
No one ever plans to be sick or disabled. Yet, it's just this kind of planning that can make all the difference in an emergency. Long before she fell, Louise had put all her important papers in one place and told her son where to find them. She gave him the name of her lawyer as well as a list of people he could contact at her bank, doctor's office, insurance company, and investment firm. She made sure he had copies of her Medicare and other health insurance cards. She added her son's name to her checking account, allowing him to write checks from that account. His name is on her safe deposit box at the bank as well. Louise made sure Medicare and her doctor had written permission to talk with her son about her health and insurance claims.
On the other hand, Ben always took care of family money matters, and he never talked about the details with Shirley. No one but Ben knew that his life insurance policy was in a box in the closet or that the car title and deed to the house were filed in his desk drawer. Ben never expected that his wife would have to take over. His lack of planning has made a tough job even tougher for Shirley.
Steps for Getting Your Affairs in Order
There are many different types of legal documents that can help you plan how your affairs will be handled in the future. Many of these documents have names that sound alike, so make sure you are getting the documents you want. Also, State laws do vary, so find out about the rules, requirements, and forms used in your State.
Wills and trusts let you name the person you want your money and property to go to after you die.
Advance directives let you make arrangements for your care if you become sick. There are two ways to do this:
For legal matters, there are two ways to give someone you trust the power to act in your place:
Learn more about planning for end-of-life care decisions .
The answer to this question may be different for every family. The following lists can help you decide what is important for you. Remember, this is a starting place. You may have other information to add. For example, if you have a pet, you will want to include the name and address of your vet.
Please remember to include complete information about the following:
You may want to talk with a lawyer about setting up a general power of attorney, durable power of attorney, joint account, trust, or advance directive. Be sure to ask about the fees before you make an appointment.
You should be able to find a directory of local lawyers at your library, or you can contact your local bar association for lawyers in your area. An informed family member may be able to help you manage some of these issues.
Getting Your Affairs in Order FAQs
Who should you choose to be your health care proxy?
If you decide to choose a proxy, think about people you know who share your views and values about life and medical decisions. Your proxy might be a family member, a friend, your lawyer, or someone with whom you worship. Learn more about selecting a health care proxy .
My aging parents can no longer make their own health care decisions. How do I decide what type of care is right for them?
It can be overwhelming to be asked to make health care decisions for someone who is no longer able to make his or her own decisions. Get a better understanding of how to make health care decisions  for a loved one, including approaches you can take, issues you might face, and questions you can ask to help you prepare.
How do you help someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia get their affairs in order?
A complication of diseases such as Alzheimer’s is that the person may lack or gradually lose the ability to think clearly. This change affects his or her ability to participate meaningfully in decision making and makes early planning even more important. Find legal and financial planning tips  for people with Alzheimer’s disease, including information on advance directives, resources, and additional advance planning advice.
There are many resources for older organ donors and recipients available from the U.S. government. Find information for potential donors and transplant recipients  over age 50, including how to register to be a donor.
I want to make sure my affairs are in order before I die, but I’m not sure where to begin.
The National Institute on Aging has a resource about End of Life: Helping With Comfort and Care . This guide can help you and your loved ones discuss key issues at the end of life, including finding hospice care, what happens at the time of death, managing grief, and preparing advance directives along with resources for more information.
Here are some helpful resources:
601 E Street, NW
Washington, DC 20049
Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services
7500 Security Boulevard
Baltimore, MD 21244
National Elder Law Foundation
For more information on health and aging including the free booklets So Far Away: Twenty Questions and Answers About Long-Distance Caregiving and End of Life: Helping with Comfort and Care , contact:
To sign up for regular email alerts about new publications and other information from the NIA, go to www.nia.nih.gov/health .
Visit www.nihseniorhealth.gov , a senior-friendly website from the National Institute on Aging and the National Library of Medicine. This website has health and wellness information for older adults. Special features make it simple to use. For example, you can click on a button to make the type larger.
National Institute on Aging
National Institutes of Health
NIH...Turning Discovery into Health ®
U. S. Department of Health and Human Services