None of us expects to be suddenly seriously injured, mentally impaired or even deceased due to accident or illness, but my recent accident and hospitalization brought home to me how important it is for all of us, no matter our age or health, to be prepared in advance in case something happens to us. A family coping with injury, illness or death should not have to also cope with lack of preparation. I know it's hard to think about these things - all of us would like to think nothing of this kind will happen to us - but it's important to get it done, ahead of time.
Here are some questions for you to consider:
Do you have a will? It doesn't have to be complicated or expensive, but getting a simple will prepared, as well as a letter of direction for the gifting of special personal items, will often save your family expense and time as well as make sure your wishes are honored - if you don't have a will, state law will specify who gets your assets and it may not be the people you intended. If you have a will, and your circumstances have changed - divorce for example - be sure to have your will changed. A will also can specify who would be the guardian of your minor children in the event of your death, if you are a single parent, or in the event of the death of both spouses if you are married.
Do you have a durable power of attorney that will allow a trusted person to administer your financial assets in case of your incapacity?
Do you have a health care proxy, advance directive for health care and permission for family members/trusted persons to have access to your medical information? A health care proxy permits the named person to make decisions about your medical care if you are incapacitated. An advance directive specifies what sorts of medical care you are and are not comfortable with under certain circumstances, including life support - this should certainly also be clearly discussed in advance with your family so they understand your intentions.
If you are the person in your family who handles financial matters and files, would your survivors be able to quickly take up the reins if you weren't there? This means that not only do they know where things are, and that the materials are in good order, but that they understand about these matters and are able to take over for you if needed - there are many horror stories about surviving spouses who had little knowledge of financial matters.
Do you have a plan for what would happen to your horses and other animals if you were deceased or permanently incapacitated? Maybe you trust your family to carry out your intentions properly, but being clear about what you want is a good idea. If you need extra assurance about the care of a special animal, in some states it's possible to set up a trust in advance for the animal's care, with specific directions.
If you are in charge of the care, physical or financial, of an elderly or disabled relative, are there alternative arrangements set up in case you suddenly disappear from the scene?
And finally, not about paperwork or legal matters - if you were to die tomorrow, would there be serious unfinished business that should have gotten done - this can be anything from cleaning out the basement to an apology for harsh words spoken yesterday to reconciling with a former friend or a relative. Think about it - you never know when your time will be up.