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50+: Live Better, Longer

Putting Affairs in Order Before Death

Experts explain the steps you should take to make sure your family knows your wishes on everything from funeral plans to end-of-life care.
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Living Will continued...

"A durable power of attorney for health care enables you to appoint someone as your proxy to make health care decisions for you," says Sabatino.

Aging With Dignity has prepared a "Five Wishes" document that outlines such personal care decisions in plain English. Go to www.agingwithdignity.org or call 1-888-594-7437.

No. 4. If you have dependent children, name a guardian to take care of them. If you have a disabled child, you may also need to consult a professional who can guide you through the labyrinth of Medicaid and Medicare rules.

"Find a specialist who understands the benefits that may be available under Medicaid and Medicare, and who understands how those benefits can coordinate with asset planning," Sabatino says. "If you leave everything to a disabled child, he or she won't be eligible for aid. They will have to use up the entire estate before they qualify for aid. More thoughtful planning would allow the estate to complement public benefits. This is a growing specialty called special-needs planning."

Planning a Funeral

No. 5. Ease the trauma of your death for survivors by preplanning your funeral. "Leave instructions on how you want your body to be disposed of," says Sabatino. "Today, when families are so far-flung, how are you going to get your children together for your funeral or memorial service? You can arrange for their travel expenses. You can write your own obituary, or at least a minibiography for death announcements."

Those are the "big five," as Sabatino calls them, but he and other experts suggest a few others:

  • Donate your organs. Carry an organ donation card in your wallet. Keep a second card with your important documents so it will be found quickly should you have an accident. In many states you can become an organ donor when you renew your driver's license. For information, visit www.organdonor.gov.
  • Make sure you have life insurance if your spouse or children will need financial support after you die.
  • Think about long-term care. "Stay out of a nursing home if you can," Sabatino says. "Most people who end up in nursing homes become impoverished and qualify for Medicaid. Don't assume that long-term care insurance will protect you. "You may have a condition that disqualifies you," says Sabatino, "or you may not be able to afford it. Premiums can cost up to $2,000 a year for a 60-year-old and double each decade after that." You may be able to give some money to your children so they can help you after you can qualify for Medicaid, but you must do that well in advance of going into a nursing home now that Congress has tightened the rules. "If you give your property away, you may be disqualified from Medicaid coverage."

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