People often think of their health care proxies and living wills as being about end of life planning, but I prefer to think of this area of practice as Quality of life planning. Without agency documents your body and your assets can be controlled by people who may not know what you consider to be important, even if they love you.
In some situations, your health care, your living situation, and your assets can be controlled by the state! I offer counseling to help you avoid such situations, so that you can think deeply about how you want to live, and plan accordingly.
The goal is to live as self-determining a life as possible, and to make your transition with dignity, in the way you prefer. It is not just about your dying; it is about your living!
PLANNING IN A PANDEMIC: Constraints & Opportunities
Under even ideal conditions, healthcare and financial planning can feel overwhelming. Now, with a global crisis creating pervasive instability, doing so may feel like an especially low priority. After all, in the event of serious illness or incapacity, the law will automatically appoint a spouse or someone from a person’s family of origin to step in and make decisions on their behalf. But the default settings of the law tend not to be very responsive to most people’s needs and desires, and they can be especially uncomfortable for people whose primary intimate relationships are not fully recognized by the law. For many, this crisis has made it more necessary, but also more difficult to designate agents who are in the best position to know about, communicate, and fully respect their wishes.
For everyone who needs some individualized legal protections, but cannot marshal the resources or summon the fortitude to do a whole set of complex documents on top of literally every other thing right now, please enjoy this FREE! PRACTICAL! and SOCIALLY-DISTANT(!) DIY PACKET, including:
- A Health Care Proxy
- A Living Will allowing you to document your healthcare and end-of-life wishes
- A DOH Form 5211, allowing you to designate an agent to carry out your funeral wishes
- Information on how to leave your assets to your loved ones or organizations without writing a will
- This link to information about New York State Preneed Funeral Fund
Creating the documents linked below will allow you to make your own decisions about health care and financial planning, and to appoint people you are comfortable with to carry out those decisions, rather than simply naming people to step in and make decisions for you.
In deference to social distancing, documents may now be notarized and witnessed via a combination of video-conference and snail mail, and I remain available to assist you with my full-service suite of agency documents. But if now isn’t the right time for you to do a comprehensive estate plan, you can still protect yourself! I have put together this packet for you to ensure that you have the greatest possible access to legally binding healthcare and asset protections, no matter what your circumstances are right now.
I encourage you to fill out these forms, and take steps to direct the distribution of your assets. Perhaps most importantly, though, I would recommend that you have clear and open discussions with those closest to you about the following questions:
- What are your health care wishes, and who should be responsible for communicating those wishes to your doctors?
- How do you want your assets to be managed in the event that you are unable to do so yourself, and who do you want to be responsible for managing them?
- How do you wish your assets to be distributed upon your passing?
In addition to legally documenting your instructions, the best way you can ensure that your wishes are respected is by making sure your wishes are widely known and clearly understood.
A Health Care Proxy is perhaps the single most important document for you to complete. It identifies a primary person and a secondary person (your health care agents) who should be contacted in the event that you become unable to express your health care wishes on your own.
The important characteristics of a health care agent are that they should be
- geographically close to you;
- reachable by telephone;
- reliable; and
- willing to carry out your instructions.
The information you will need to complete the form is as follows:
- Your name and address
- The names and phone numbers for your first and second choice health care agents
- Two people not named elsewhere in the document who will sign as witnesses. You do NOT need a lawyer or a notary to complete this document.
You should check in with the people you wish to name as health care agents, to make sure they are willing to act in this capacity. You will also need to communicate to your health care agents whether you wish to have artificial nutrition and hydration rendered to you, or withdrawn, in the event that you slip into a permanently incapacitated condition.
Note: the polonged withdrawal of artificial nutrition and hydration are both eventually fatal. The withdrawal of artificial nutrition is not painful; the withdrawal of artificial hydration is said to be quite painful.
This document (which becomes effective only if you have lost the ability to communicate) allows you to identify the point at which you feel your quality of life will have diminished so far that you prefer not to receive certain types of medical interventions — and it specifically identifies which treatments you do or do not want.
The Living Will provides critical guidance about how you wish to live, and how you wish to die, and it is a gift to your loved ones, who will not have to guess at what you might want in an already anguished moment.
DOH Form 5211, Designation of Agent to Control Disposition of Remains
This document identifies someone (and thereby excludes others) who may retrieve and dispose of your body after your passing. There is a “special notes” section in which you can outline your wishes with respect to any funeral, burial, cremation, or donation of your remains. This document can be especially important for people whose families may not respect their genders or partners. Please remember that this document is only effective if people know that it exists. It requires the signatures of two witnesses who are not elsewhere named in the document, and the signature of the person appointed as agent.
Totten Trusts: How to leave your assets to a person or organization without a will
Did you know that you can add one or more beneficiaries to your bank accounts?
If you want to leave the contents of any given bank account to a person, you can direct the bank to transfer the account upon your passing to a person (identified by their name, date of birth, and Tax ID number) or an organization (identified by their name, business address, and Tax ID number). If you wish to split the contents between beneficiaries, you can instruct the bank to leave, for example, “75% to my child and 25% to Release Aging People from Prisons.” If you wish to leave your checking account to your child and your savings account to the National Lawyers Guild, then you may do so by designating them as respective beneficiaries on those accounts. It is worth placing a call to your bank to find out how to accomplish this from home. You can also identify beneficiaries for IRAs, stocks, insurance policies, and other accounts. Upon your passing, these assets will automatically transfer to the beneficiary, so let the intended beneficiary or a third party know who has been named!
Here is a link to information about making sure that your funeral arrangements are taken care of prior to your passing. Planning and paying for a funeral can be intimidating and can exacerbate the stress of an already painful time, so if you are in a position to do so, opening a pre-need funeral account may be a final act of care for your loved ones.
Please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, with any questions, or for help notarizing. Just put “Quality of Life” in the subject header, and I will get back to you as soon as possible.