Life Planning Documents

There are many different types of legal documents that can help you plan how your affairs will be handled in the future. Many of these documents have names that sound alike, so make sure you are getting the documents you want. It is important to note that state laws differ on the requirements for validity of many of these documents. In most cases, if these documents are invalid they are not even worth the paper on which they are written. Thus, it is important to consult a legal professional who will be able to provide you with valid, enforceable documents that will achieve your planning goals.

Wills and Trusts let you name the person you want your money and property to go to after you die.

Advance Directives let you make arrangements for your care if you become sick. Two common types of advance directives are:

  • A Living Will gives you a say in your health care if you become too sick to make your wishes known. In a living will, you can state what kind of care you do or do not want. This can make it easier for family members to make tough healthcare decisions for you.
  • A Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care (also known as a Medical Power of Attorney) allows you to name the person you want to make medical decisions for you if you cannot make them for yourself.
    • A necessary corollary to the Medical Power of Attorney is a HIPAA Authorization. The HIPAA Authorization allows anyone named to make medical decisions for you to get information from the doctors about your condition to be able to make informed medical decisions on your behalf.
  • Additionally, many states recognize a Declaration of Guardian. A Declaration of Guardian is somewhat different from the other documents discussed as it does not have any legal effect without the involvement of a court. Only a court may grant a guardianship because of the level of rights lost by the person subject to the guardianship. However, the Declaration of Guardian form provides an opportunity for you to communicate who you believe would be the best choice as a guardian for you if you ever need one. Also, the Declaration of Guardian form can be used to note any individuals that may not be qualified to serve as guardian.

For legal matters, there are ways to give someone you trust the power to act in your place.

  • A General Power of Attorney lets you give someone else the authority to act on your behalf, but this power will end if you are unable to make your own decisions. This short-term power can be utilized for purposes of purchasing a home or vehicle on your behalf in the event you need to unexpectedly be out of town at the time of closing on such a purchase.
  • A Durable Power of Attorney allows you to name someone to act on your behalf for any legal task, but it stays in place if you become unable to make your own decisions. The Durable Power of Attorney is more applicable to the long-term estate planning context. The responsible person designated would have the ability to make financial decisions on your behalf (such as paying bills, purchasing or selling a vehicle, or managing an investment portfolio) in the event you are still living, but unable to adequately manage financial decisions. However, all power granted under a Durable Power of Attorney is immediately revoked upon the death of the individual who granted the power.

Estate planning is often a topic that people think “as soon as this upcoming life event passes it will be the perfect time to plan.” However, even if you do not want to do a full estate plan you may consider getting some of these documents in place to protect against the unknown. It is important as you think about these documents and who you might name that you take into account the powers being granted and converse with these individuals about your plans.

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