May 08

How to Protect Yourself and Your Money

Legal Stuff

This post was originally written and published at the end of 2017 but still remains relevant. So, once I switched over to our new website I figured it was good to include.  🙂

Happy New Year!  Now that the holidays are behind us, it’s time to get back to business.  January 1st gives us permission to start over with a clean slate.  We make New Years resolutions and promises to make our lives better, healthier, more productive.  Some promises we keep, others get dumped before February gets a chance to roll around.   Hopefully, this year we will keep more promises than we throw away.  This year I am making a commitment to stop procrastinating on my ever-growing to-do list and get organized.  I’m guilty of making lists but never being able to complete it 100% as I am constantly and easily distracted.   But this year will be different and I want it to be for you too.

As part of this commitment to us, I spent the last few days creating a FREE downloadable must-have IMPORTANT DOCUMENTS CHECKLIST.  What is it and why do I need it?  We all have lists of doctors, medications, allergies, bills, documents that we should have in one file but oftentimes it is scattered in a million different places and we are the only ones with the knowledge of where all those documents, passwords, etc are.  In the event of any emergency, there should be at least ONE OTHER PERSON who knows this information or knows where to get the information. If you are an adult, are or will be responsible for your parents or loved one some day, have a bank account, or any assets whatsoever, I highly recommend you fill it out for yourself and/or your loved one(s).  Print it out and put it in a safe, secure place and let someone else (preferably your emergency contact) know where that safe, secure place is.  It’s not going to a super fun to fill out and most of you will think it is a good idea but never actually fill it out, putting it off to when you have ‘more free time.’  Let’s be honest—you’ll never have ‘more free time.’ I hope you will defy my prediction because I wish I had something like this when our mother had her stroke.  As Mom woke from her coma in the ICU, her first words were “pay mortgage.”  It was at that moment that we realized we had no idea about how and what bills she paid, where she placed all her important documents…nothing.  We had to put all the pieces together like a detective and when your mother is laying in ICU, it’s the last thing on your mind.  But we also couldn’t continue to ignore it because it was better to deal with it before it would become a bigger problem.  We knew life had changed from what we knew it to be and there was no going back.

We tend to put off things like this because in the back of our minds we hope that we will never have to face such tragedies.  But the reality is, ignoring it doesn’t mean it won’t happen.  We can’t predict the future so if we put some things in place, we can reduce the stress later on.  Believe me – it took us weeks to figure out how to pay for Mom’s bills…time that could have been spent doing more important things.

Life is complicated and messy.  Paying for life is even more complicated and messy. I admit the document is long and can look intimidating, but it is well organized and once you fill it out, it will alleviate A LOT of stress!  And who doesn’t like less stress?  Sit down with your partner, spouse, parent, loved one and get as much information as you can.  You don’t need to fill out every line but at least get the major information in the event of an emergency.  Fill one out for yourself.  I made it into a fillable PDF to make it easier.  Don’t forget to print it out and put it in a safe, secure location and tell at least one other human being of its location.  Along with the Important Documents Checklist, at minimum you should also have the following documents in the folder:

  1. Durable Power of Attorney

  2. Living Will

  3. Will

  4. DNR (Do Not Resuscitate)

  5. Healthcare Proxy

  6. Trust Documents (if applicable)

  7. Life Insurance policy

  8. Loan Agreements (if any)

  9. Homeowner’s insurance policy, deed, mortgage statements

  10. Tax records (at least last 5 years in case you need to apply for Medicaid – more on this later)

Dealing with ICU, hospitals, doctors, specialists, nurses, social workers can be daunting.  You are expected to make critical life decisions when you are often in a state of emotional shock and grief.  One of the first questions you will be asked is whether you or your loved one has a DNR (“do not resuscitate”), a living will, healthcare proxy or a durable power of attorney.  If you or your loved one is in critical condition, then a DNR will come into play – a ‘Do Not Resuscitate’ order mandates that you do not want to be kept alive solely with the assistance of machines.  The hospital is legally obligated to keep you alive by all means necessary, so if you or your loved one feels strongly about not being hooked up to machines to be kept alive then make sure you or s/he signs a DNR.  A living will details what kind of care you or your loved one desires if you or s/he cannot communicate those needs because of the illness or accident.  A healthcare proxy states who will be responsible to make healthcare decisions on your behalf in the event you are unable to make them yourself.  A durable power of attorney is a similar document but includes other decision making responsibilities (bank accounts, investments, bills, etc). Thankfully, my mother had these documents and we knew how she wanted her wishes carried out.

If you haven’t had this conversation with your parents or loved one, DO NOT put this off any longer.  You can easily get the documents from www.legalzoom.com or other websites if you can’t afford a lawyer. These documents are basic and critical in the event anything should happen.  You want to be able to fulfill their wishes but you can’t if you don’t have the conversation to begin with. Hopefully you will not need to access it anytime soon.

Yes, the Important Documents Checklist is 10 pages long and it could probably be longer but imagine having to know all this information while you are in the emergency room at a hospital.  The doctor will ask you many health/medical questions and having the document will allow you or your loved one get better and/or quicker treatment.  You also don’t want to have to deal with these details when you are emotionally distraught.

DOWNLOAD YOUR IMPORTANT DOCUMENTS CHECKLIST HERE

IF YOUR PARENT(S)/LOVED ONE IS/ARE OVER 65, YOU SHOULD CONSIDER (IF THEY ARE AMENABLE)

  • becoming a co-signer on their financial accounts.  This is MUCH easier than having to present the power of attorney form to each institution.  Then their accounts can be looked after and their bills paid without much interruption. After Mom had her stroke I had the foresight to become a co-signer on Dad’s bank account so when he got sick, it was seamless for me to pay his bills.

  • Begin to distribute assets to the children/beneficiaries to avoid the 5 year look back (in the event you need to apply for Medicaid…more on the 5 year look back in the future). The look back clock is critical.  A look back means that Medicaid can ‘look back’ 5 years into you or your loved one(s) assets and apply them to their medical care.   If the asset is out of their name for over 5 years then it is untouchable.  We have all heard stories of people going bankrupt because of a medical problem…this is part of the reason why.  There are strategies to save your assets.  An eldercare lawyer will be able to help.  If your parent(s)/loved one are still active and they don’t feel comfortable giving away their assets then it can be placed into a trust.  But definitely do this with the guidance of an eldercare lawyer.

I also recommend getting a password app (I use 1pass and love it, but there are a lot of different ones out there) to help keep your user names and passwords organized in order.  It’s great because then you can access them when you need it.  Create different accounts if you want to store your parent(s)/loved ones info.

Remember this checklist is not just for the elderly.  If you are an adult with responsibilities then you should fill it out too.  It’s free, so what are you waiting for?   A debilitating accident or illness can strike at any time regardless of age. I don’t mean to sound like a Debbie downer but it’s a reality of life.  So if we face it head-on, get organized, communicate with our loved ones, then we can get back to the business of creating a fulfilling life for ourselves and our loved ones.  For 2017, let’s get organized, healthy and happy!

DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE IMPORTANT DOCUMENTS CHECKLIST HERE.

May 08

How I Created a Magnificent End…For My Dog

Death and Dying

[This post was originally written October 1, 2016] My pit bull Ray Ray is probably one of the most gentle beings on this earth despite the awful stereotype that his breed has.  He’s been dubbed the Buddha dog because of his calm nature.  Kids often make fun of him on the street because his tongue sticks out of his snout.  I would joke telling them that he got the wrong size at birth.  But Ray Ray of course doesn’t care.  People would either walk on the other side of the street, afraid of his big ol’ head and pit bull body or walk right up to him sensing his kind and gentle nature.

Anyone who says that the death of a pet is nothing like losing a human loved one has never had a pet.  Ray Ray whom we rescued from a shelter in Manhattan as a 1 year old is about to approach 10 years now and has been diagnosed with congestive heart failure.  We started to notice the weight gain in his belly and the lethargy in his steps.  But he never fails to wag his tail in delight the moment we step in the door.  Witnessing Ray Ray’s decline has been emotionally difficult.  I know he is going to die.  I just don’t know when.  But until that day happens I want to make sure that he is comfortable and happy.  In some ways, I feel like dogs have it great because when that end is imminent and if it gets too uncomfortable or painful, we can release him from this world.   But I am not ready for that, and I don’t think he is either.

I had an insightful conversation about death recently with a new friend, Daisy Sola (more on her later).  She is a life completion or death doula.  What is that you ask?  Just like a birth doula, she is a helper…but she helps people with the end of his/her life, not the beginning.  She said something that has stayed with me since our conversation.  We spend so much time (and money) focusing on birth, the things that s/he will need (when in fact they don’t really need anything but a mother’s boob), all the celebrations, preparations to bring this being into this world when in fact that little being will have no memory of these celebrations.  But because death is such an enigma, and hence frightening, to so many of us, we don’t want to discuss it or we only talk about it when death is imminent and even then, we are often reluctant to talk about how we want our ending to be.  But like an amazing movie or broadway show why can’t we create a magnificent end, a glorious finale?  One that will be remembered and cherished for all those we leave behind.  Why does the last memory often have to be lying sick in a hospital bed or in a nursing home?  We have so little control over how we will die that at least we can do what we can to make it amazing.

So, I want to make Ray Ray’s end magnificent.  On our walks, he likes to people watch but I am always too busy to sit at his favorite corner pulling him along as he tries to sit. His big ol stubborn pitbull body is strong!  So now, when he wants to sit at his corner and watch the neighbors walk by, we hang.  I learn to breathe again and take in the fresh air.  Ray Ray gets as many cookies as he wants (he always did get lots of cookies).  He gets freshly cooked meals.   And he gets gentle belly rubs, lots of them.  At the end of the day, he just wants to be with us.  We will take each day as it comes.

OCTOBER 8, 2016

Words do not describe how I am feeling right now.  While just a few days ago, I thought Ray Ray still had a few weeks, perhaps months left, today my husband and I decided to put him to sleep as his heart no longer had the strength to keep up.  He woke up yesterday with a cold and bluish tongue and was no longer really eating.  My head knew that it was time, but my heart was not ready to let go just yet.  He went very peacefully and I find solace in that but there will be forever an emptiness in my heart—an emptiness that hopefully will be filled by the next rescue animal that enters our lives.  Ray Ray would insist on that.  But until then, we honor Ray Ray and the magnificent life lessons he taught us.  I am most grateful that I was able to give him a magnificent end.  His last week was filled with slow walks under sunny skies, snacks, hugs, and cuddles. He still managed to wag his tail and take a slow and short walk this morning.   I don’t want to focus on all that I have lost, but rather all that I have gained by having him in my life.  We will all die some day and since we don’t know how that will happen, we might as well make every day magnificent.

How will you create a magnificent end for your life?  Will it be filled with music, dancing and lots of fanfare or are you the more quiet type?  How can we create a life where we can talk about the beginning, middle and end with equal comfort?  I would love to hear your comments below.

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