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Secure Your Future

Planning for difficult decisions

New York Teacher

Many of us who retire at age 62 can expect to live longer than our ancestors. But to be safe, it’s important to prepare by having family discussions about what to do in the event of a debilitating illness or death. These discussions should be held when you’re healthy and death is a long way off. It’s much harder to make decisions when emotions are running high.

Here is a list of topics you should discuss with your family and the legal documents — many of them available free of charge through your UFT legal plan — you should have.

Durable power of attorney

If you become temporarily or permanently incapable of handling personal matters, you should designate someone you trust as your “attorney in fact” to handle your legal affairs.

Your attorney in fact is the person you designate in a document called a “durable power of attorney.” You may file a copy of this document with the Teachers’ Retirement System.

A durable power of attorney outlines the decisions that can be made on your behalf if you become incapacitated. It expires at death, however, which is why everyone should have a will.

Estate planning

You should have an up-to-date will and other appropriate estate documents, and you should let trusted family members know where you keep these documents.

Without a will, the state will impose its own formula for the distribution of your estate, which could result in serious consequences for the people you would have liked to have been your beneficiaries.

Health care proxy

Health problems may leave you unable to make decisions about your care. Don’t get caught without designating someone who knows what you want in the event that you can’t express yourself.

You should complete a health care proxy, also known as a durable power of attorney, which is specifically for health care. The person you name has the authority to make decisions regarding artificial nutrition and hydration and other measures while you are incapacitated.

Living will

To make sure your health care agent knows exactly what you want and, as important, don’t want, it is prudent to have a living will. A living will helps your family know what you want when you can’t speak for yourself. In a living will, you leave instructions about life-extending care that can range from every possible treatment to keep you alive to no interventions at all. You can also leave instructions about organ donation.

Asset inventory

You should have a list of your assets in the same place as your will and other estate documents. Such an inventory is an invaluable help for your survivors. The list should include the account information for your retirement system, bank account numbers, stock certificate information, insurance policy numbers and other numbers and accounts connected to your financial assets. Don’t forget to include any debts or money owed to you. Plan to update this list annually.

In the event of death

If you are or were a New York City public school educator, your beneficiaries must notify TRS at 888-869-2877 or the Board of Education Retirement System (BERS) at 929-305-3800 if you die to initiate the death benefits process. Please leave that phone number with your will.

The information sheet “What to Do When a UFT Member Passes Away” is available online and will answer many questions. If a member or a survivor still needs assistance, they may call the UFT at 212-331-6311.

Legal representation

All in-service UFT members are automatically enrolled in the union’s Legal Services Plan. The plan provides members with access to attorneys who will prepare a will, living will, health care proxy and power of attorney annually free of charge. To access this legal plan, UFT members should call the UFT-dedicated line at 212-331-6325.

The UFT Welfare Fund’s Retiree Legal Plan with Elder Law Supplement provides UFT retirees with access to attorneys who can prepare a will, a living will, a health care proxy and a power of attorney. The Elder Law Supplement extends services to assist with estate planning among other things.

To reach the Retiree Legal Plan, UFT retirees on Long Island may call 631-231-1450. All other New York State residents should call 800-832-5182. Florida residents should call Glantz Law at 954-424-1200 or toll-free at 800-654-1945. UFT retirees in all other parts of the country should call 800-292-8063.

This column is compiled by Tom Brown, David Kazansky and Debra Penny, teacher-members of the NYC Teachers’ Retirement Board.