Planning for Incapacity: Documents to Have and Steps to Take

empty hospital bed in white room

There is no question we are living longer. It’s not unusual these days for people to live well into their 90s – even to 100 – and sometimes beyond. This is great! It allows us more time to enjoy our loved ones. But with aging comes the inevitable health issues that can prevent you from living your best life, and often times, managing your affairs can fall to the bottom of your priority list. That’s why it is so important to plan for incapacity and have the proper documents in place before a crisis strikes.

Why Do I Need to Plan for Incapacity?

Most people plan for their passing by having a Will or Living Will. Unfortunately, not many plan ahead for scenarios where they become temporarily or permanently incapacitated and become unfit to handle their estate or make legal decisions.

You don’t have to be old to be mentally or physically incapacitated. Sure, dementia and Alzheimer’s are the leading cause of impairment in older people. However, an accident, heart attack, stroke, or other debilitating illness can occur at any age, and at any time. 

Planning for incapacity – as with any estate planning task – is all about being prepared for the expected and unexpected. There are several documents you need to have in place if you cannot make your own decisions.

Documents You Should Have

If you become incapacitated, these are the essential documents that will kick into play to protect you, your family, and your estate. They become effective once a doctor deems that you are impaired and cannot communicate your wishes.

Living Will

Also known as an Advanced Directive or Health Care Directive, this document allows you to list your health care wishes and end-of-life care. You can be specific about what medical treatments you want or don’t want. A Gentreo Health Care Proxy includes optional questions that address those issues as in a Living Will. Learn More >>>

Health Care Proxy

In some states it is called a Power of Attorney for Health Care or a Power of Attorney for Medical Care. Name the person that will act on your behalf to carry out your medical treatment wishes as spelled out in the Health Care Proxy/Living Will.

Power of Attorney

Manages your finances, business, and legal matters. This person will pay your bills, take care of your investments and bank accounts, and file your income taxes on your behalf if you can’t.

Revocable Living Trust

Place assets like your home or financial accounts out of your ownership into a Trust while you are living that will transfer to a beneficiary upon your passing. A Trust typically does not require the probate process and could possibly keep your assets out of the hands of nursing homes and creditors.

Pet Power of Attorney

Appoint a caregiver to take care and custody of your pet and list instructions for its care.

Pet Trust

Set aside funds for the care of your pet. Appoint a permanent Caregiver, a Trustee and Protector to ensure your pet is cared for and your wishes are followed as laid out in the Trust.


Although a Last Will and Testament controls your assets after you die, it is an important document to have as part of your incapacity planning, mainly, because you can name a guardian to care for your minor children if something happens to you.

If you do not have any of these legal plans at the ready, the court will step in, and could create stress, lead to expensive legal costs, and lead to conflict between your loved ones. If you don’t have a Living Will, Power of Attorney, or Health Care Proxy, guardians and/or conservators would be appointed – people you may not know – to make decisions on your behalf. And these decisions may not be what you wanted.

Steps to Take to Plan

Call a Family Meeting

Have a serious conversation with your loved ones about your plans. Make sure they understand what your choices are and why. Determine who would like to act as your legal agents or representatives and who would be able to step up to make decisions on your behalf if you cannot.

Talk with Your Doctor

Discuss your medical treatment wishes with your health care provider. If you want a Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) order, have the doctor write it up.

Create Your Plans

Once you had discussions with your family and doctor, it’s time to create your documents. Consider your values, wishes, and circumstances when drafting them.

Store Your Plans

Once your plans are completed, they should be stored in a secure but accessible location, like in Gentreo’s Digital Family Vault. It provides secure, 24/7 access to all of your important documents.

Share Your Plans

Give access to select documents to your chosen loved ones so they can act in the event of an emergency.

Update & Review

Your documents should be reviewed at least once a year and updated when your life changes. If you were diagnosed with an illness or have a change in marital status, your documents should be amended accordingly.

Plan Ahead for Incapacity

Don’t wait until a life changing event happens. Be prepared and make your plans so that you can be in control, even if you become incapacitated. Having essential documents created, stored and shared ensures the protection of your wishes and your loved ones.


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