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In case of serious illness, take one of these to protect your legal rights

December 28, 2009 |  2:37 pm

When a physician urges you to "get your affairs in order," it is the unspoken part of his or her message--the imminence of disability or death--that is likely to get top billing in your mind. Getting your affairs in order, however, is still important. And a newly released guidebook can help get you organized for the task.

Long before healthcare reform opponents began warning of "death panels" bent on dispatching the seriously ill more efficiently, members of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization regularly got questions from clients about how to assure their wishes are carried out. The hospice group turned to the American Bar Assn.'s commission on law and aging for advice.

The result is a new publication--available for free--called "Legal Guide for the Seriously Ill: Seven Key Steps for Getting Your Affairs in Order." In 51 pages of plain English, the guide provides clear step-by-step instructions on:

--Planning how you will pay for the healthcare you need;

--Making a plan for the management of your health and personal decisions during your illness;

--Making a plan for the management of your money and property;

--Planning for the care of dependents;

--Knowing your rights as a patient;

--Knowing your rights as an employee; and

--Getting your legal documents in order.

The new guide reflects new regulatory and legislative changes, including extended COBRA payments that will help laid-off workers extend their existing healthcare insurance coverage. And for each step, the guide provides many, many resources that can provide further help. It's a must for critically ill patients and their caregivers.

The National Center on Caregiving's Family Caregiver Alliance also has posted some helpful advice for critically ill patients.

For those still worried about the prospect of "death panels," here is the official summary of the House healthcare reform bill that touched off those comments.

-- Melissa Healy  

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