Preparing for the Unexpected: A Sanity-Saving Checklist

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Before my husband was stricken at 59 with a permanent, debilitating illness, we had only partially prepared for the unexpected realities that would transform our lives. Prior to his neurological illness that affected his brain in many ways including behavior and executive functioning, I could not envision anything striking us that could be that disabling and lifechanging. I should have spent more time imagining as well as planning!

A conversation with one of my friends battling cancer awakened me to the unexpected turns that life can suddenly take. She urged us to secure long-term care insurance which we soon purchased, choosing the option to share care from each other’s policy, in case either one of us exhausted his or her own. That turned out to be a very wise investment.

We also had other important legal documents prepared for one another: the power of attorney (POA), healthcare POA, and our wills. You cannot plan for every contingency, but having these legal documents, along with insurance policies for short and long-term disability, and long-term care insurance, proved to be life savers for us when the unimaginable happened.

Creating Your ICE File

Having an “In Case of Emergency” (ICE) file is an essential organizational tool when disaster strikes for any reason. We did not prepare ours in advance, but I wasted no time once Rick’s illness became apparent.

Under most circumstances, having the POA and the healthcare POA documents in place will be sufficient for handling the financial, legal, and health management concerns if a loved one is stricken. Preplanning can also avoid the conflicts that may arise when family members disagree on health management and the financial and legal responsibilities for care.

Power of Attorney: A POA allows you to designate someone you trust to make financial, tax, and legal decisions on your behalf should you become incapacitated. With a POA, your designated legal representative can manage your financial affairs, sell property, pay bills, make deposits, discuss your insurance policies, and serve as payee for your Social Security payments, among other decisions.

Ordinary POA vs. Durable POA: There is a critical difference between an ordinary POA and a durable POA. An ordinary POA can be revoked by you at any time while you have the legal capacity to act. If you become injured, sick, disabled, or unable to communicate, an ordinary POA is no longer legally effective. A durable POA can be drafted so that the POA becomes effective immediately and continues for the duration of your sickness or disability or can specify that it becomes effective only when you become incapacitated. It maintains your representative’s legal rights to serve on your behalf. As the principal, you can legally revoke a durable POA at any time unless you become incapacitated. 

Advanced Health Care Directive: This includes two documents: 1) a healthcare POA, which designates a person you authorize to make medical decisions on your behalf in the event you become incapacitated. A HIPAA release gives your representative the authority to access your health records and doctors; and 2) a “living will” outlining the type of care you want to receive if you become incapacitated. This could include a Do Not Resuscitate Order (DNR) or a preference for comfort care only. 

Additional Documents: Your ICE file should include other critical documents maintained in a secure place. Notify a trusted friend or relative of their location. Ideally, you should keep originals in a safe deposit box or fireproof box with copies safely stored at home. Review these with your spouse, partner, adult children, or other responsible party and update, as necessary.

Documents should include:

  • Insurance policies
  • Wills and living trusts
  • Bank accounts
  • Investment accounts
  • Credit card information
  • Birth and marriage certificates
  • Social Security numbers
  • Employment, military, and tax records
  • Real estate deeds and car titles
  • Passwords
  • Burial preferences and funeral arrangements
  • Contact numbers of your attorney, doctors, financial advisor, insurance agent, the location of your safe deposit box and keys, and other information relevant to your situation.

If your responsibilities include other loved ones, you will need to compile similar documents for them. While it may be uncomfortable talking about matters of money, mortality, wills, and wishes, it is a necessary conversation which can save you from untold exasperation and provide greater ease in navigating them.

With such planning, you should be able to navigate medical, legal, and financial issues with relative ease; without it, prepare for some snags and tangles along the way.

Excerpted from her latest book, A Toxic Brain—Revelations from a Health Journey, featuring the author’s fervent search for answers regarding her husband’s bizarre symptoms and all the unexpected realities of navigating his debilitating illness. Sandra Strauss is passionate to inspire destinies of health, harmony, and happiness. She offers a collection of strategies in her books, presentations, and blog to support vibrant health and wellbeing,




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