By Holly Glen Gearhart
Time flies quickly. Before long you could find yourself in a legal boondoggle you forgot about or thought you had taken care of; namely, your will and medical directives. Most of us would like to think we have plenty of time to attend to these legal issues but the stats are not in our favor.
Forgetting to put together a will and medical directives is often the nucleus of bitter disputes between family members, the outcome of which is often decided in court. Everyone leaves something behind which has to be dealt with; contents of your place of residence, that last paycheck, your IRA-401K, insurance, or Social Security death benefits—the list goes on.
There are specific legal guidelines for last will and testaments, particular to the state in which you live. Check with your local senior center; they may offer some names of attorneys in your area who specialize in wills and estate planning.
Often forgotten, a medical directive is just as necessary and can cover things such as who should call the shots for you while you convalesce, and after. Often included in medical directives are what are called DNRs, or orders not to resuscitate you under certain circumstances, or at all. It isn’t great to think about yourself ill, injured or comatose, but medical staff needs to know the extent of heroic measures you want if you are unable to speak. Would you want resuscitation or heroic measures taken to return you to consciousness if you are in a coma for an extended period of time?
These documents can be filed and set aside; they will not be executed unless you are in need of them. Let me assure you that planning for your death will not attract death to your bedside. I have written my will and directives three times now, beginning when I was 38 years old –22 years ago– and I am still alive.
Speaking of wills and directives, have you forgotten your pet?
The last thing you want is for your pet to be taken to a shelter or put down due to inconvenience on the part of your surviving family members or your landlord. According to the ASPCA, you can name your pet in your will but you cannot name it as a beneficiary. Animals are defined as property in legal proceedings. You can, however, direct how your pet is cared for and by whom. That document is called a pet trust.
A pet trust is a legal document created to direct the care and maintenance of your animals in the event of your disability and/or death. Your trust for Fido should be concise and include designated guardians or caretakers. Be sure to inform the people you name of your wishes.
Don’t forget to include how and what to feed Fido, how and when to exercise him and name the veterinarian the animal is used to seeing. In addition, include general information about the animal’s personality: whether or not your pet gets along with other animals and what kind of animal(s), whether the pet is good with children or has a tendency to bite, among other things.
Check out http://www.aspca.org/pet-care/pet-care-tips/pet-trust-primer.aspx and see the article “Pet Trust Primer,” by Kim Bressant-Kibwe, attorney for the ASPCA Trusts & Estates Counsel.
For more information about pet trusts, visit: http://www.pettrustlawyer.com/, a detailed resource guiding you through information you will need, should you become unable to care for your pet.
I cannot say enough good things about micro-chipping your animal. The chips will correctly identify which animal the directives belong to and inform the vet whether the animal has a trust providing for his or her care. These micro-chips are readily available at vet offices, shelters and some pet stores. The price of micro-chips has come down dramatically over the years and they are highly recommended, even for pets that never go outside of the home.
For more information on these issues, seek out information from your attorney and/or hit the Internet and visit AARP.ORG, WebMD.COM and the Wall Street Journal. Each site has a search function, so search for “wills” in any and you can find a plethora of information.