You are aware of the need for a Last Will & Testament, but there are other documents you need as well to ensure your assets are protected and your wishes are followed.
Power of Attorney is an incredibly important document to have executed and in effect. It gives one or more people, called your “Agent”, the authority to transact business if you are unable to do so yourself. It gives authorization for your Agent to make decisions about your finances, business, and other legal or financial matters.
A Power of Attorney can be “springing” which means it only goes into effect upon your incapacity, or it can go into effect immediately upon your execution of the document. A Power of Attorney can be needed by a bank, mortgage company, creditor, hospital, government agency, financial advisor, or anyone else with whom you transact business to allow someone else to transact business for you if you are unable to handle that business yourself.
Because of the powers this document gives, be sure you completely trust the Agent you name. Is your Agent trustworthy? Can you trust this person to act in your best interest, only use your funds for your benefit, and not drain your bank account?
As with a Last Will & Testament, you will need to name a primary agent as well an alternate or successor agent if, for some reason, the primary agent is unable to serve. You will name a Guardian for minor children in this document as well. Because the Last Will & Testament only goes into effect upon your death, you name a Guardian in the Power of Attorney for while you are still alive but unable to care for your children. Note: a Power of Attorney terminates at your death.
Advanced Directive for Health Care is your directive as to your health care. It states your wishes and desires if you are terminally ill or injured, or permanently unconscious. This document informs health care professionals and your family as to whether you want to be provided life sustaining treatment (i.e., be hooked up to machines that merely keep you alive with no or very little chance of living if off the machines) and whether you want food and water.
This document can also name someone, known as your “proxy”, to make decisions for you. As with the Last Will & Testament and Power of Attorney, you will need a primary and an alternate or successor. Always plan for the unexpected, so have a primary person and alternates, because you just never know what may happen.
Your family needs to know your wishes as to your health care. You will likely name family as your proxy, but even if you don’t, be sure they know what you want or don’t want. If you don’t have this Advanced Directive for Health Care in place, you are placing an incredible burden on your spouse, children, or other family to make a difficult decision about whether to keep you hooked up to machines or not. And, what if your family is at odds? What if they don’t agree? Remember the case of Terry Schiavo in Florida? That can happen. It’s not fair to leave your family with trying to figure out what you would want – and the possibility of division between the family over that – when you can so easily execute this Directive while you are living.
Be intentional about the Legacy you leave. An hour with a licensed attorney to discuss your estate plan will help preserve your legacy, your resources, in the manner and way in which you want it preserved.
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