Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Will, Part 4: What to do when there are no family members to support your legal wishes.

Trust is the key element when
 deciding who should handle your
legal affairs.

It’s sad but true that there are many people who have no one who is a significant part of their lives to take care of legal issues. But that doesn’t mean that assets and the power to make decisions should just be left to the doctor in charge, a court officer, or the fine print in the bank’s policy. There may be friends or extended family willing to lend a hand with legalities.

If you’re having trouble determining the right person to help you, ask yourself these questions:
  1. Who would visit me, or who would I want to visit me, if I were ever hospitalized?
  2. If I had an emergency in my home, who would I call?
  3. If I needed to get a ride somewhere, who would I call?
Next, see if the people who come to mind, whether related by blood or not, are those you really trust to make decisions for your best interests, and if they are in a position to be of help if a need arises. A relative with shady business dealings is unlikely to be the best choice. An adult child with substance abuse issues may not be the best choice. A relative living a distance away without the means to travel in case of an emergency would not be the best choice either. An older relative with their own serious health issues may also not be the best choice.

Friends or church members/staff can fill these needs when there is no spouse, significant other, or family around, or when the family dynamics are such that there is no family member in a position to fill the need. You may find you need more than one person – one to handle your financial affairs, another your healthcare issues. 

How to approach another person to handle your legal affairs?

Simply ask. 
  • Explain the need and your desire to make sure your wishes are honored. 
  • Explain what your wishes are in specific circumstances.
  • For financial issues: make sure that person knows that if they agree to be your financial back-up, that you’ll review with them where the account information, checkbooks, and your wallet are generally kept. 
  • For healthcare issues: The Five Wishes program at www.agingwithdignity is one that is great for reviewing potential end-of-life decision making situations and helps guide a person with this process. Let the person you have chosen know who your primary care doctors are or where you keep this information listed. Hospitals may not be able to find records they need to help with emergency care if they do not know the name of the doctors to contact for records. Your healthcare representative can help with information flow in a time of need.
  • Explain what legalities are involved.
  • Explain any unusual or uncomfortable family dynamics that may be involved.
  • Give the person time to think and consider. 
  • Once a decision is made, take care of the legalities. If you can, have that person come with you to handle things legally so they know where you handle your business and where you’ll be storing your documents. (See The Will – Part 3)
Make sure that those people you are close to, but who may not have been selected as the legal representative, do know who will have your legal authority if a crisis occurs. Make sure to let church staff and your primary care physician know who you’ve designated as your legal representative in time of need, too. 

Lastly, relax. Once you have own support team in place, regardless of their blood relationship to you, you know that your wishes will be supported even if you can’t tell others what they are. That’s peace of mind.

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