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Get Our Act Together – 5 Essential Legal Documents

The past couple of months have been challenging to say the least, but at no time in my life have I been more inspired to check in on whether I have “my act together” or not. What “act” do I mean? I am referring to the “act” that lays out my thoughts and desires for my family to follow at the time I am no longer able to make decisions for myself. 

This “act” takes planning, time and help from professionals. While checking in on my plan, I thought it might be helpful to share what I have learned. 

In today’s article, I will simply highlight the 5 essential legal documents that every adult needs. These documents grouped together are often referred to as an “Estate Plan”. This list doesn’t cover every situation and should not be considered legal advice, but it will help cover the basics. 

  1. Advance Medical Directive/Living Will
    • Allows adult to document, in advance, what kind of medical care they do and do not want to receive
    • Covers preferences in life-support procedures
    • This information guides decision makers when a person is incapacitated
  2. Durable Health Care Power of Attorney (with HIPAA Authorization) – also known as a health care proxy
    • Authorizes someone (known as the agent) to make all decisions regarding health care, including choosing health care providers, medical treatment, and end-of-life decisions
    • The power typically goes into effect when the adult is unable to make decisions for themselves
    • HIPAA Authorization gives someone the authority to review and discuss the adult’s health information with health care providers
  3. Durable Financial (General) Power of Attorney
    • Authorizes someone (known as the agent) to make decisions specific to financial and personal matters
    • Depending on state laws, the power of attorney can be effective immediately or upon incapacity (known as “springing” powers). Proof of incapacity for “springing” powers may be required for the power to go into effect and may delay transactions, thus it is usually not recommended
  4. Last Will and Testament (takes effect upon death)
    • Appoints Executor to administer estate at death and distribute assets to intended beneficiaries in accordance with the terms of the Will
    • Appoints guardian for minor children, if needed
    • Appoints Trustee for any ongoing testamentary trust for surviving spouse, children or other beneficiaries
  5. Revocable Living Trust (takes effect during and after adult’s lifetime)
    • Allows the adult (the grantor) to create a trust and appoint someone (a trustee) to manage the trust assets when they are not able to manage their finances
    • A person or a financial institution can be the trustee

This short list of legal documents will help you start planning for the future. Please be reminded that if no planning is done before an adult becomes incapacitated, family members must ask a court to appoint a conservator or guardian. This can be an expensive and difficult road to travel for families.

How to get started with legal documents…hiring an elder law attorney is always recommended. 

AgeWise is here as a resource for you! Our social workers and daily money manager have extensive experience in working with the elderly and their families as they navigate the aging process, including advice, consulting and assistance in performing duties under these essential legal documents. Please email or call us, we’re here to help.

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