Record Keeping 101: Where do I even start?

Kristopher M. Struckmeyer, Ph.D., Assistant State Specialist for Caregiving, Oklahoma Cooperative Extension

Remember that old saying, “the two things you can’t escape are death and taxes”? As challenging as it is to prepare for tax season, we struggle even more with advanced care planning. In 2018, a national survey reported that 90% of Americans believe it is important to talk with their loved ones about end-of-life decisions, but only 32% have actually had that conversation1.

What do I mean (about) by record keeping or advance care planning? These phrases refer to the legal documents that say how you would like your finances, assets, and healthcare to be handled when you are no longer able to communicate your wishes to others. This could include a medical crisis or death. Most people know this process as “getting your affairs in order.”

Now, it is important here to stress that record keeping or advance care planning is not something just for older adults. At any age, a medical crisis or serious accident can leave you unable to make your own decisions. Many of us will face financial or medical decisions, but waiting until an emergency happens can limit our ability to make our wishes known.

How do you get started? Start by asking yourself what kind of treatment you do or do not want in an emergency. Do you want life-saving measures (e.g., CPR) used to keep you alive? If so, what kind? Is there a length of time you would want these measures used? It is important to consider your personal values. What makes life meaningful to you?

Once you have an idea of what you want, it is important to make your wishes known. For healthcare, you will want to fill out an advance directive. This includes a living will and a durable power of attorney for health care. A living will (different from a last will and testament) is a written document that tells doctors how you want to be treated if you are dying or permanently unconscious. This document allows you to specify which procedures you want, which ones you do not want, and under which conditions each of your choices applies. A durable power of attorney for health care is a legal document that names someone to make medical decisions for you when you are unable to do so. This person needs to be familiar with your values and wishes.

After you have decided on your treatments and your proxy (if you choose one), it is time to fill out the legal forms. Many states have their own advance directive forms. A lawyer can help fill out these forms, but it is not required. Just be sure you follow all the steps on the form. It is a good idea to consult your doctor before you start this process. Be sure to give copies to your proxy and your doctor. Remember, this document can always be changed as your values change.

Emergency situations are already overwhelming. Why not give yourself and those closest to you some peace of mind?

Aging Advocates, a group of area businesses and agencies in the Stillwater area, come together monthly to advocate for older adults. From their experiences, they innovate ideas and raise awareness of older adult issues. It is important to look at the developing needs of the different aging population and look to support, educate and find services valuable to a life fully lived.


  1. The Conversation Project (2018, April 10). Most Americans “relieved” to talk about end-of-life care [Press release]. Retrieved from