Legal documents Americans should not be without

Toni King

Hi Toni,

My husband is retiring at the end of the year, and we are losing so many company benefits, such as life insurance, dental and vision. I know I am missing things that are important for us to do to retire with as little stress as possible. I do not know what other subjects we need to explore.

I have been told that if we do not have a power of attorney in effect for both of us, and my husband has or I have a stroke (or another disability), we could have to go to court and file for guardianship.

I have no knowledge of this subject and really do not know what type of attorney we will need. I want to make sure that I get this done correctly. Thanks.

-- Sandra from Galveston, Texas

Hello Sandra,

I understand how you feel. Many Americans who are enrolling in Medicare or retiring, whether healthy or with a serious health situation, struggle with what to do when losing employment benefits. In addition to helping people make the right Medicare choices for themselves, during a Medicare consultation, the Toni Says Medicare team advises everyone to seek an attorney or other legal aid to have a new or updated power of attorney, medical power of attorney and living will executed. Those three documents can make your life less stressful during a trying medical time.

Adult children can help by ensuring their parents have these documents in place. Parents need to understand they are not giving up their independence; they are helping their adult children help them during a medical crisis or other difficult situation. Parents, it is not an easy or straightforward process for your adult child to adopt a parental role with you. Executing these three legal documents will make it easier for them.

Here's a brief summary of each:

-- Power of attorney: This document is the cornerstone of a financial plan. It ensures your wishes will be executed if you are unable to act on your own behalf. It appoints someone to manage your financial affairs in the event of illness or incapacitation and is critical to ensuring your future independence in that event. Without it, you risk having your affairs managed by a court-appointed guardian, possibly a stranger, under court supervision. In other words, you literally lose control of your financial affairs.

-- Medical power of attorney, also known as a health care power of attorney: This power of attorney gives someone you trust the legal authority to act on your behalf regarding health care decisions if you ever become incapacitated or unable to communicate.

-- Living will: A living will is a written statement that spells out the type of care you want (or do not want) if you become incapacitated. A living will is not related to the conventional will or living trust used to leave property at death; it is strictly to spell out your health care preferences or wishes.

Sandra, you may want to visit to research estate planning and elder law issues. You can interview attorneys or legal aids that specialize in elder care, family law and/or estate planning. Finding legal help will ensure the choices you and your spouse would make will be carried out in the event one or both of you cannot speak or act for yourself.

Toni King is an author and columnist on Medicare and health insurance issues. She spent more than 27 years as a top sales leader in the field. For a Medicare checkup, email or call 832-519-8664. You can visit to listen to her Medicare Moments podcasts and get other information for seniors.