Power_of_AttorneyA full durable power of attorney enables an individual to appoint an “attorney-in-fact” to act on his or her behalf for almost every legal and financial situation imaginable. Of all the estate planning documents, this is by far the most important. If you become incapacitated and another individual needs to act on your behalf, a Durable Power of Attorney allows the individual to act IMMEDIATELY, and avoids the need for a complex guardianship process through which a judge would pick a Guardian (see Guardianship below) for you.

Unless the Durable Power of Attorney document that you sign is “springing” it becomes effective IMMEDIATELY upon signing, NOT when you become incapacitated. The Durable Power of Attorney ceases upon death, so it cannot be used to avoid probate.

Additionally, a Durable Power of Attorney requires more updating than any other estate planning document discussed here. The laws with respect to powers of attorney change frequently. I recommend having your attorney update this document at least every five years, to ensure compliance with the law.

Pre-Needs_GuardianIn the event you become incapacitated at any time, this document entitles you to name the individual that you would like to serve as your Guardian. These documents are especially important if there are individuals that you would NOT want to be your guardian in the event you become incapacitated. This document is also useful for designating a guardian for your children in the event you and the child’s other parent become unable to care for them due to death or incapacity. Unlike many estate planning documents, this document is so important that it is actually recorded with the court once it is signed.
Designation_SurrogateA designation of health care surrogate allows you to designate another individual to make health care decisions on your behalf in the event you are unable to do so. Unlike a durable power of attorney however, the designated individual has no authority to act unless your attending physician has determined that you lack the capacity to make your own health care decisions.

 

 

WillA living will is a document that outlines an individual’s wishes with respect to the termination of medical procedures when the person is diagnosed with a terminal or end-stage condition, and treatment is no longer effective, or when the individual is in a persistent vegetative state. In most instances a living will specifies whether the individual wishes to be kept alive, or whether he or she wishes for life support to be terminated when there is no reasonable probability of survival or recovery.