The question estate planning and elder law attorneys are often asked is, what documents do I need? The answers to that simple question can be complex and a bit confusing. There is no one-size-fits-all to estate planning, or one cure-all for everyone’s needs. Ultimately, estate planning is all about personal goals and attitudes, and what a person wants to accomplish.
However, over the years it has become very clear to me that at a minimum every client should have a last will and testament, a financial power of attorney, and a medical power of attorney (healthcare proxy) and living will, known as an advanced healthcare directive.
A financial power of attorney is essential to protect you if during your lifetime you become incapacitated. It allows you, while still healthy, to name an individual to manage your day-to-day affairs and financial affairs while incapacitated, even if just temporarily. Being married does not always guarantee that your spouse has the right to make those decisions on your behalf. A financial POA is not expensive, and can save the heartache and emotional tear of a guardianship.
A healthcare power of attorney names one or more individuals to make healthcare decisions when you are unable to do so; without it, there may be no one to make such decisions, or doctors may look to people who are not the ones you would prefer. A living will allows you to decide now your end of life healthcare decisions and whether you would like heroic and lifesaving measures. Not forcing loved ones to have to make end of life decisions and “pull the plug” is a wonderful gift from you to your loved ones.
In order to assure that in time of need or upon death your wishes are followed, and your family is covered, you should work with an attorney to put at least these essential documents in place.
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