What happens if you have a horrible accident or illness, and you can’t communicate to doctors or loved ones? Cicily Maton, a partner and senior financial planner in the Chicago office of The Planning Center, tells us how to be prepared for such a bad day:

Imagine a situation in which some or all of the following circumstances were to happen to you.

Marlene, the matriarch of a family, is a youthful widow who is active, fiercely independent and living on her own. Her adult daughter and son are both married and busy with their own broods, but the three all manage to stay in touch with one another despite their busy lives. Suddenly, however, this close-knit family finds itself facing adversity.

Are you prepared in case you end up inside of this speeding vehicle? Shutterstock

One day, despite repeated attempts to call Marlene, neither her son nor her daughter is able to reach her. Their initial calm quickly turns into fear and apprehension as hours fly by. Much to their horror they discover their mother is on her way to an area hospital. Apparently, Marlene took a nasty spill in her apartment. Dizzied and unable to call for help, she remained on the floor of her apartment until discovered by a caring neighbor who called paramedics.

The reality is that misfortune can strike any one of us at any time: a virus contracted while traveling, heat stroke caused from a blazing tropical sun, an automobile accident resulting in injury, or taking a tumble to the pavement while out shopping. On any given day, we are a blur of energy and activity. The next day …we are incapacitated.

Marlene’ s children did not know the extent of her injuries, but they knew she needed their immediate help. In the next 24 hours, there were literally dozens of decisions to make. Questions needed answers. Someone had to complete all the paperwork. The hospital required identification numbers, insurance policies and medical information.

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How prepared are you to respond at a moment’s notice to an emergency involving a loved one? Who would handle decision-making should one of your family members become sick and be unable to do so? Do you know where your family’s important policies and documents are located so you can access them immediately and avoid costly delays (both medical and financial)?

With a little bit of planning and the help of your financial advisor, you can keep everything you need to handle such emergencies in a single place. The following are just a sampling of the legal papers and policies that you need available at a moment’s notice in a situation like this.

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Emergency Contact Numbers. This list should contain primary ICE (In Case of Emergency) contacts and information (i.e., name and phone number of your doctor, drug allergies, closest relatives, etc.).

Insurance Information. Listing of preferred providers in your health care network

Letter of Instruction. Spells out any special requests you would like carried out should you be unable to communicate them to others for any reason.

Health Care Power of Attorney. Names a spouse, family member, trusted friend or designated professional to make health care decisions for you if you are unable to do so on your own.

Power of Attorney. Gives someone else the authority to handle your financial affairs.

Will. Details how you would like your property and assets distributed after you die.

Long-Term Care Coverage. Hands-on assistance provided to an individual over an extended period to people who cannot care for themselves due to an illness, disability, or cognitive impairment (i.e., Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia).

Advanced Directive. Also known as a living will, this document alerts medical professionals and your family to the treatments you want to receive or refuse, and under what conditions.

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Financial Statements. Since the best decisions are informed decisions, any financial data you may need can be readily available to you.

If all of the above documents are in place, you have made a wonderful gift to your family. If not, consider this your call to action. Remember that one of the greatest gifts you can give to your family is an organized plan for handling emergencies—medical and otherwise.

As Marlene’s daughter and son discovered in our example, you cannot control every aspect of protecting the health and well-being of your loved ones. However, you can better prepare for challenging times when grief and stress can cloud one’s memory and make decision making more difficult. It is important to check your records to ensure your important policies and legal documents are accessible and up to date.

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