Don't wait until an emergency happens to start getting your affairs in order. Start with these five key documents:
You need a will. It will properly explain your wishes to everyone you leave behind, sparing your family emotional strain during an already difficult time. If you have children, a will is an absolute must. If you and your spouse were both to pass away, this is the document that will say who you want to become their legal guardians. That's definitely not something you want left up to the courts.
A lawyer can help you draw up your will, or you might consider using a will-making computer program. Once you have the will, take a look at it every few years and update it whenever there's a significant change in your life, like marriage or divorce, a new child, or a change in your preferences.
A health care proxy gives the person you choose the legal right to make health care decisions for you if you aren't able to make them for yourself (for instance, if you're unable to communicate). Be sure the person you choose knows your wishes and will respect them, regardless of their own views.
Living wills are more specific than health care proxies. Their purpose is to clearly explain to hospital staff what sort of medical treatment you want if you're terminally ill or can't communicate on your own. Say you had a life-threatening health problem and were rushed to the hospital. They would provide you with a form like this to fill out, but if you were unconscious you wouldn't be able to. It's really important to have this document ahead of time.
This document makes the person named in it your "attorney-in-fact" and gives them permission to make legal and financial decisions in your place. Just like with a will, this is incredibly important if you have children. As with all these documents, name your choice carefully.
If something happens unexpectedly, this will give all the information someone needs to contact your family, find your other four key documents, and take care of the things that need to be taken care of. Include names, phone numbers, and addresses of your doctor, your hospital, and the person you've chosen as your health care proxy. Label everything clearly. Even a stranger should be able to understand.
Learn more about our Financial Tools and Resources