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Important Estate Documents to Consider

August 06, 2020
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We hope this blog finds you well.  According to a Kaiser Family Foundation Study in 2017, only 27% of American adults have completed a Living Will.  These days, we've all been facing an unprecedented global crisis with COVID-19.  Now, more than ever, we need to be communicating our preferences with our loved ones.

Emergencies and/or unforeseen medical events can occur without warning. Having the following legal documents available in advance there are in a safe place but easily accessible will save anxiety and precious time. The following briefly describes these documents.

Durable Power of Attorney (POA) –This is a separate document for each person. It allows someone called a trustee, to act for you, generally goes into effect immediately, and will stay in effect even if you become incapacitated. Its purpose allows your trustee (your spouse, partner, parent, or adult child) to act for you only in financial matters. While you can order necessary forms online, it’s better to use an estate planning lawyer to make sure the forms conform to current state laws.

It’s also best to check with your bank and brokerage firm to ensure your form meets any special language requirements these institutions may have to ensure they will honor your power of attorney.

For about the past 5 to 10 years power of attorney’s (POA) are assumed to be durable unless otherwise stated. Some POA’s, known as Springing POA’s only become active if a doctor or the courts find what incapacitated.

You may also designate a primary and a contingent or even a tertiary trustee to ask you if I primary and a contingent is not available.

Health Care Proxy – This document may be referred to as power of attorney for healthcare or an advance (medical) directive (AMD) for health care. In this document the trustee of your choosing has the right to make (only) medical decisions for you. Again, a separate document is needed for each adult in the family and contingents for tertiary trustees can be named. The AMD proxy can include any special considerations you may have for surgery, life-support issues, pain medication use etc. having an AMD proxy means you should discuss with your trustees what you define as acceptable quality of life. For example, would you agree to a feeding tube if it would prolong life? Would religious beliefs or personal values affect the choice of treatment? Although the AMD proxy gives the trustee legal authority to make medical decisions for you your doctor may block at following your instructions if a family member objects. To avoid that scenario, you and your trustee(s) should discuss with your family members about your decisions to reduce such conflicts and ill will later.

Medical Information Release – This form enables your doctor to share your medical records with your loved ones. This form is a companion to your AMD proxy because medical release forms are not standardized. You and your spouse/partner should obtain one from your doctor or hospital. 

Living Will – This document is often confused with a healthcare (AMD) proxy. You provide written guidance on what kind of treatment you or your spouse/partner want or donn’t want but it’s only for terminal illness. It’s a simplification to say it gives instructions on such issues as resuscitation and when to pull the plug on life-support. 

Please check with your estate attorney or financial planner for a free copy of “Five Wishes,” living will that allows you to decide your personal, emotional, and spiritual needs as well as your medical wishes.  Written with the help of The American Bar Association’s Commission on Law and Aging, it’s easy to use and approved in 42 states.  We have provided a SAMPLE 5 WISHES COPY for you to review. Please give us a call if you would like an original copy mailed to you to complete.