New Yorkers learning about the importance of maintaining Independence as You Age

Maintaining Independence as You Age: Essential Planning for New Yorkers

Planning for incapacity is an important part of your estate plan. It makes it possible for your family to take care of you, should you become too sick or injured to be able to manage your own affairs or communicate your wishes.
Picture of By: Shannon McNulty, Attorney, The Village Law Firm

By: Shannon McNulty, Attorney, The Village Law Firm

Shannon's work is sophisticated and reflects her deep knowledge of the laws governing estates, taxation and child guardianship issues. Shannon approaches each client with sensitivity and compassion, understanding that many of the decisions that they will have to make can be difficult.

Learn More About Shannon

Gathering for Fourth of July and Juneteenth celebrations can be a heartwarming reminder of the value of independence, both for our nation and for ourselves. 

As we age, maintaining our personal independence can become more challenging.  At some point, nearly all of us will rely on others to help take care of daily needs.  This idea can be scary –  especially for New Yorkers, who often pride themselves on their independent streak.

To maintain some control over our lives when our bodies and minds begin to deteriorate, we need to put a plan in place ahead of time to help ensure we will live in accordance with our preferences. 

This involves planning for future health and financial needs and making our wishes clear. A comprehensive estate plan plays a key role in documenting choices that will help you later on, when you may not be capable of managing things on your own.

Why is Estate Planning Important for Independence?

It can be easy to stick your head in the sand and pretend you’ll be as capable in the future as you are today.  This is the approach so many people take.  But if you don’t put a plan in place for yourself, the state has one for you – and by the time it’s in place, you won’t be able to change it.  

Who Will Manage Your Money If You Can’t?

If you are no longer capable of managing your legal and financial affairs, someone will have to step in to make sure that your bills are paid, important documents are signed, and investments are managed properly.  

You can designate someone to take care of these matters with a Power of Attorney.  If you don’t have a Power of Attorney in place, a court will appoint a guardian to handle these matters for you.  A friend or relative can be appointed to take on this role, or a court may appoint a professional guardian.  A guardianship is one of the most administratively challenging and intrusive legal arrangements, so you want to avoid a guardianship for yourself or for your loved ones if at all possible.  That’s why a Power of Attorney is one of the most important documents you can have.

Who Will Make Healthcare Decisions for You?

A Healthcare Proxy – sometimes called a Medical Power of Attorney – designates someone to make health care decisions on your behalf if you’re unable to do so. This person should be someone you trust to stay calm in emergencies and make tough decisions. It’s vital for New Yorkers to keep this document up to date to avoid issues with healthcare providers.

Documenting Your Healthcare Wishes with a Living Will

A Living Will – also known as an Advance Directive – outlines your wishes for medical care if you’re seriously ill, in a coma, or near death. They help prevent family disputes and ensure that your preferences are respected, such as whether you want life-sustaining treatments or wish to donate your organs.

In addition to a Living Will, it’s important to for New Yorkers to communicate their wishes to their chosen Healthcare Agent.  Not every situation will fall into the scenarios set forth in your Living Will, so making sure your Healthcare Agent understands your general wishes can help them make the best decision in any situation.

What Are the Key Documents for End-of-Life Planning?

There are other documents that you can put in place if you are severely ill or of an advanced age.

Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) Orders

These documents are used to give directions about your preference for medical care if you’re seriously ill, in a coma or near death. It is a means to establish your wishes concerning what treatments you don’t want as much as what you do want. Having a living will can avoid family arguments about what you wanted …or having to guess your wishes, which can haunt decision makers. Do you want to be kept alive by artificial means, and if so, what treatments are acceptable and what are not? Would you wish to donate your organs or your body for scientific study? All of these questions can be addressed in the living will.

Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST)

A POLST is a written medical order from a physician, nurse practitioner or physician assistant to provide for people with a chronic health condition or who are seriously ill. It requires a candid discussion with your healthcare provider to understand your wishes for your care. While the DNR refers to CPR (Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation), the POLST can address your wishes about whether or not you want to receive pain medication, nutrition, intubation, and other end-of-life treatments. It should also be with you in your home or in your medical chart at a healthcare facility.

Your legal documents are just a part of a comprehensive plan for aging.  

Paying for Long-Term Care

In addition to legal documents, it’s important to have a financial plan for how your care will be paid for.  Long-term care can be expensive, so you want to have a plan well in advance for how those costs will be covered.  Check out our videos on options for planning for long-term care: Medicaid Planning and How to Speak with Your Loved Ones about Estate Planning.

Enlisting Other Professionals

As we age, we can become more vulnerable – both physically and financially.  Having a team of professionals in place to help you can ease the transition and protect your wellbeing.  An estate planning lawyer and financial advisor can be invaluable resources for New Yorkers who want to maintain independence as you age.

Making Information Available for Your Loved Ones

Designate someone to be in charge of what legal documents you have in place and where to find them, what financial assets are available, and what needs to be done in the event you’re not able to manage things yourself.  Information about credit cards, financial accounts, and insurance, is critical for someone to ensure your financial wellbeing.  Likewise, your healthcare agent should have information about any medical conditions and medication you need to take.

To make sure these important items are available when needed, The Village Law Firm can serve as an emergency resource for clients.  With this service, our firm stores your legal documents and maintains other important information so that everything is organized and available to your loved ones or other representatives when it’s needed.

Take Charge of Your Independence

All these documents and preparations ensure that your family can support you in line with your wishes while you maintain independence as you age. By proactively planning, you maintain control over your future. The Village Law Firm helps guide New York families every day with documenting their wishes and securing stability in how they and their assets are managed as they age. Book an Initial Call with our New York City estate planning team to take the first step towards securing your independence today.

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