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Plan Well, Retire Well

Saving and investing your money

Advance Directives Help Families during Difficult Times

On any one day most of us are juggling time, work, family, money, and more! But on some days, the demands of making decisions and juggling priorities become almost overwhelming. Caring for an older family member during an illness is one of these times. I'm dealing with this situation now and it's hard. However, I'm thankful that some planning and decision-making has already taken place.

We can each help our family members by taking the time to prepare written documents called advance directives. These documents help you communicate how you want health care procedures, property, and finances handled when you can't speak for yourself.

A durable power of attorney for health care allows someone else to make health care decisions for you, including treatment for physical and mental conditions and hospital admittance. You need to choose someone you trust such as a family member or friend. Some people prefer choosing a trusted member of the clergy or a lawyer.

A living will tells your health-care professional whether you want death-delaying procedures used if you have a terminal condition and are unable to state your wishes. A living will is different from a power of attorney for health care as it only applies if you have a terminal condition. The Illinois Department of Public Health defines this as "A terminal condition means an incurable and irreversible condition such that death is imminent and the application of any death delaying procedures serves only to prolong the dying process."

The third type of advance directive document for health is known as Do-Not-Resuscitate or DNR. The DNR gives instructions on when Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) should be attempted, or not.

These health care advance directives can be downloaded for free at the Illinois Department of Public Health's Advance Directives website.

A financial document to consider preparing is a durable power of attorney for property. This document allows you to designate another person to handle and make decisions about your financial affairs including investments, bank accounts, property, and any other money management tasks. Again, choose this individual or agent very carefully. Think about someone you can trust implicitly with your money and is knowledgeable about finances. You can download a copy of the Illinois Power of Attorney for Property for free.

When you die, a will (and/or trust) is needed to be sure that your finances and property are distributed the way you want. Wills should be reviewed and updated throughout the life cycle and after major life changes. An attorney is the best professional to help you write a will.

Decisions about which of these financial documents to use should be made after careful consideration, and after consulting with experts in the health care and legal profession. Planning ahead with our finances does take time and organization. However, the peace of mind that it can give you and your significant others makes it all worthwhile.

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