It’s important for both independent seniors, as well as those transitioning to assisted living, to finalize their legal affairs. While wills for your assets are common, legal provisions outlining medical decisions and long- term care are often dismissed. These provisions can help to guarantee your affairs will be managed, even when you are no longer able to handle them yourself.

Having requests clearly written can eliminate future disputes among families. A power of attorney is drafted, in part, by the aging or disabled senior, giving a trusted individual the power to act on his or her behalf. The power of attorney can be limited to only include certain activities, like filing taxes. The courts can grant a Conservatorship if the senior becomes unable to manage their legal affairs and has not yet designated someone to act on their behalf.

A person can be deemed incapacitated if they are no longer able to make decisions, nor are they able to adequately care for their own health or nutritional needs. Many seniors are able to function in certain areas, but struggle to pay bills or manage other responsibilities. When this situation arises, many seniors and families begin considering the transition to assisted living.

Attorney Martin L. Pierce, with the Pierce Law Firm in Chattanooga, Tennessee, a certified estate planner and expert on elder law, sat down with us to discuss the importance of pre-planning legal affairs. According to Pierce, there are notable differences between Power of Attorney, Conservatorship, Irrevocable Trust and other roles. It is also important to note, “There are slight differences, particularly in terminology, in different states or localities. “Conservatorship” and “guardianship” are basically interchangeable, for example.”

While the senior is able to grant a responsible party the title of Power of Attorney, this role can be challenged and petitioned if another family member feels the designated party isn’t capable of providing the appropriate support.

A revocable trust can even do double duty in tandem with or in lieu of the traditional will, outlining how your affairs should be handled during your lifetime as well as after your death. And if your needs change or you change your mind about who you want to put in charge of administering the trust, that’s entirely possible with this type of arrangement.

While unfortunate, it is common for families to dispute and divide over matters of money and healthcare when age or medical conditions have left the senior able to make their own decisions. Each of these measures are designed to provide clear direction and legal documentation should the need arise.

Though it might be trying to contemplate how to handle challenges you hope not to face, you can rest easy knowing that you and your loved ones have a clear plan and legal arrangements in place. With that taken care of, you can get back to living your best life.