When it comes to your complete safety and well being, don't leave anything to chance.
Here are 5 critical steps you must take to ensure your "First Responders" can help you in an emergency:
1. Make Sure You Have a Comprehensive Estate Plan. By the time an emergency occurs, if you have not executed a family estate plan that authorizes people to act on your behalf (for legal, financial, and medical decisions), your loved ones can be shut out from helping you. Worse, they will have to turn to our convoluted court system to get authorization to help you, which can cause untimely delays, massive expenses, and more heartache.
Make sure you have an up-to-date comprehensive family estate plan that includes a financial durable power of attorney (so a trusted individual can make legal and financial decisions on your behalf) and also a medical power of attorney (so a trusted individual can make medical decisions on your behalf). Without these critical documents, your "First Responders" are essential powerless to help you.
2. Make Sure Community First Responders Know How to Contact Your First Responders.
If an emergency occurs, you want community first responders like police, firefighters, and medics, to quickly contact those you've chosen in your estate plan to act on your behalf (AKA your first responders)! We recommend that you physically keep these people's names on an emergency card in your wallet along with the name of your estate planning lawyer.
At The Meier Law Firm, for example, all our parents who have minor children receive an emergency card for their wallet that lists out the names of people who can care for the minor children in an emergency. Those people have also received documents and instructions in advance so they know how to contact the law firm to assist and provide important legal documents that would be needed.
3. Make Sure Your First Responders Know Their Roles. Most people are unaware they've been chosen to serve in someone's estate plan or make decisions on their behalf during an emergency. It's important for you to let the people you've chosen in your estate plan to know of their roles and obligations so they can actually step in and help as soon as a crisis hits.
One of the most common objectives people have to telling someone they've chosen them to assist is that they are concerned others will find out and feel hurt or excluded, or that feelings will be hurt later on if minds are changed.
If you have those concerns, we recommend that you at a minimum let the people you've chosen know that you set up your plan, and that their name came up as a potential choice for whatever role they were chosen. Don't feel pressure to get specific on the order of things or who else was considered, but instead let them know it's an ever changing and evolving document and how to access it in an emergency.
4. Make Sure Your Estate Plan Documents Are Accessible. Your family estate plan needs to work the moment you need it to, meaning, as soon as a crises occurs. While we don't recommend you provide copies of your documents to those who you've chosen to act on your behalf (in case you change them later), you definitely need to let these people know HOW to access the documents if an emergency occurs.
For example, if you keep your estate planning documents in a safety deposit box, make sure that someone can access them 24/7. Even an overnight delay can cause significant frustration and helplessness. While it's important to make sure you keep your family estate plan secure, just make sure it is still accessible the moment it is needed.
You can also make sure that you file a copy of your most current medical power of attorney with your primary physician and your local hospital so it's already there and accessible. They can keep the documents secure, and won't be "offended" if you later update your documents and change your trusted decision makers!
For parents of minor children, keep up-to-date emergency cards in your wallet so community first responders like paramedics or police know how to contact your temporary guardians for your minor children. The temporary guardians should have a copy of your documents since they would need to physically show them to first responders.
5. Make Sure Your First Responders Know How to Contact Your Family Trust Attorney.
Make sure the people you've chosen to help you in an emergency know how to contact your family trust attorney in an emergency. The Meier Law Firm keeps a copy of your signed documents on file so that those you've authorized can contact us and get a copy of these critical documents during an emergency to assist you.