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What is “Normal” During The “New Normal”?


Written by: Barbara Newman-Mannix, Owner, A Dignified Life, LLC, Certified Caregiver and Family Life Educator & Adriane Geiger, Director of Family Advocacy, A Dignified Life, LLC.

Over the last several months we have miraculously adapted to crisis mode.  Now, it’s time to take a breath and realize that this may be our new normal for a while.

How best to cope?  There is meditation, workouts, music therapy, and more, but let’s think about organizing.

You’ve done the closets, and even the garage, but what about your important documents?

If you haven’t looked at these documents for at least a year, it’s time, and what better time than now?

Do you have the following legal documents in a centralized place?  We recommend a simple, common binder.  That way, you, as well as your loved ones will know where to find these valuable papers when they are needed, need to be updated or in the case of that dreaded emergency or death.

I remember the first time these ‘organizational’ thoughts hit me. At first, I became anxious… does anyone know where our documents are?  Do my husband and kids know what I know?  Does anyone know what to do in the case of an emergency? My husband? Kids? Definitely not the kids. Wait, they’re in their 50’s, but they’re still ‘the kids.’

There was a time when families did not talk about “these things.”  Now that we’re all living longer, healthier lives, don’t we have a responsibility to speak of important matters while we still can?

Perhaps you don’t feel comfortable having this conversation without understanding the legal language involved.  We put together a small glossary of general terms to aide in this important conversation.  Please familiarize yourself with these terms and explanations.  As confrontational as these terms are, is as much as they are your friends, your safety net, your way to communicate and navigate these imperative decisions.  Please don’t wait until a loved one becomes disabled or is no longer present in this estate conversation.

Advance Directives:  legal guidelines written on an individual behalf, in advance, that direct future care in the case that he or she cannot make or communicate a medical decision. The primary emphasis is usually on the end of life care. The most common types of advance directives are power of attorney, healthcare proxy, and living will.

Will: a will is a legal document that must be prepared, signed, witnessed, and/or notarized as required by the state. It appoints someone to administer their estate, a personal representative, (executor/executrix) assigning assets. If an individual dies without a Will or Trust, state statutes determine the distribution of assets, depending on state regulations, someone must volunteer to administer the estate.

Trust: a trust is a legal entity created by the individual to hold title to his or her assets. All assets will be transferred to the Trust. When the individual dies, the Trust continues to own the assets and the beneficiaries bypass the probate process in obtaining assets. A trustee may also manage assets during the individual’s lifetime in case of illness. If an individual creates a Trust, he or she typically will still create a brief accompanying will. An attorney must be involved to create and organize these documents.

Revocable Trust-a Revocable Trust is established for your own benefit and you remain in charge of the Trust during your lifetime.

Irrevocable Trust– the biggest drawback to an Irrevocable Trust stems from its name: irrevocable–you do not have control of the Trust. In order to make any changes to the Trust or to terminate it, the Grantor, Trustee and ALL beneficiaries must sign off. The assets in the Trust are not deemed to be your assets and are therefore not available to you or to creditors.

Living Will– a living will is a legal document that indicates the individual’s wishes regarding end of life decisions, i.e., CPR, ventilators, and feeding tubes.

Health Care Proxy– a healthcare proxy is an agent appointed in a legal document who is authorized to make medical decisions for an individual when they cannot communicate their wishes.

Durable Financial POA– a financial power of attorney (FPOA) appoints a trusted agent(s) to manage finances and property for an individual. It can be granted to a spouse so they may manage or access the other spouse’s individually owned assets, pay bills or property management in the event the individual is unable to manage independently. A durable power of attorney stays effective until the principle dies or until they act to revoke the power they’ve granted to their agent.

Code/No Code-DNR/DNI- these are medical order that states whether an individual wishes to be resuscitated. Hospitals and care facilities often ask terminally ill patients or their agents to write a Code/No Code order for their medical records.  This is equivalent to a:

DNR  – do not resuscitate or revive from unconsciousness or apparent death,

DNI – do not intubate – insert a tube into a person or a body part, especially the trachea for ventilation

Guardianship-an interested party may petition the local court to appoint a guardian to assist an individual whom doctors find unable to manage their health or daily needs.

Conservator-an interested party may petition the local court to appoint a conservator to assist an individual whom doctors find unable to manage their property and finances. The conservator will use the individual’s assets to pay for medical care and support and may have to apply for government benefits to assist with these costs. The conservator and guardian may be the same person or two different individuals

Names and contact information of your trusted advisors.  Date and details of last visit- usually your attorney, account, and financial planner.

Estate Attorney-trust and estate attorneys help their clients determine the specific distribution of their estate. They also provide counsel for those seeking to establish a trust where assets are set aside for a future beneficiary. Drafting wills, trusts, and other estate planning documents are a large part of their job.

Accountant-an accountant is a professional who is responsible for keeping and interpreting financial records. Most accountants are responsible for a wide range of finance-related tasks, either for individual clients or for larger businesses and organizations employing them.

Financial Planner-A financial planner is a professional who helps companies and individuals create a program to meet long-term financial goals.

Detailed Contact Information of family/friends- (including relationship, email, home address, phone numbers)-where is your personal telephone book?  Paper or on your phone?  can you download it?  Who has accessibility?

Current Medication List– a document that lists the names and dosages of the current medications you are taking with the specific prescribing doctor’s contact information and the date it was prescribed.

Whether you reside at home, or in a residence, now is the time to make sure these documents are updated and still your wishes. It will not only give you and your loved one’s peace of mind but also to create awareness and a path for the conversation with your support team, intact.  It will also give the expression, “Crisis averted,” new meaning.