Three Estate Planning Documents Everyone Needs

Estate Planning Documents

Legal and estate planning documents

When it comes to estate planning, you probably think of wills and trusts. But there are three other estate planning documents you should think about to make your plan complete:

1. Advance Health Care Directive – In California, this document, if drafted properly, will not only designate who will make health care decisions for you when you are no longer able to understand the consequences of your decision. It also provides much-needed DIRECTION to your loved ones of the choices you desire to be made about your quality of life and end-of-life decision making.

2. Financial Power of Attorney – This document allows a person of your choice to manage your finances that are not trust assets: retirement benefits, life insurance policies, contracts, employment benefits, etc. A check-the-box form, while better than nothing at all, prevents a family from engaging in certain planning that most people want their agent to be able to do when they are incapacitated, i.e., creating or modifying trusts (including special needs trusts).

3. Authorization to Disclose Protected Health Information – Commonly referred to as a HIPAA Release, this document designates who will be able to access your health information if you are incapacitated, i.e., talk to your insurance company, doctors, etc. This document has become more and more critical as privacy laws have been getting increasingly strict.

Planning for Medical Emergencies with an Advance Health Care Directive and HIPAA Release

Having the right legal documents in place in case of a medical emergency is essential to providing a family member or trusted friend with guidance and decision-making authority during a difficult time.

An Advance health care directive allows you to:

  1. Choose the trusted family members or friends in order of succession and priority who will be responsible for making healthcare decisions if, for any reason, you lose the ability to make them for yourself.
  2. State your wishes about the type of medical treatment you do or don’t want to receive in a variety of circumstances.

Don’t End Up Like Terri Schiavo

One of the well-known cases that highlights the need for a medical emergency plan is that of Terri Schiavo, a 26-year old Florida woman who collapsed and fell into a coma in February of 1990. Mrs. Schiavo didn’t have a LivingWill or Healthcare Directive, and as a result, she was kept alive for 15 years while her husband and parents fought in court over taking her off life support. Finally, in March 2005, a Florida court ordered the removal of Mrs. Schiavo’s feeding tube. She died 13 days later, and the autopsy proved she had been brain dead since she collapsed 15 years earlier.

While the Schiavo case is an extreme one, it emphasizes the fact that without a medical emergency plan, your family members may be left to guess (or possibly fight) about your medical treatment and end-of-life wishes.

Yet it doesn’t have to be that way. A Living Will and Healthcare Directive can make your wishes known and legally enforceable. If you haven’t reviewed your healthcare documents in the last year, now is the time to make sure they reflect your current wishes. Call us today if you have any questions about health care decisions and how best to communicate them to your loved ones.

Planning for Property Management with a Financial Power of Attorney

A Financial Power of Attorney allows you to select a trusted family member or friend who will be responsible for managing your money and other property if you become mentally incompetent. Without this document, bank and investment accounts held in your name will become inaccessible, IRA distributions can’t be requested, bills won’t get paid, tax returns won’t be filed, and property can’t be bought or sold. Instead, a loved one might be forced into court to be appointed as the legal conservator, and a judge will oversee the conservator’s every move. A Financial Power of Attorney can provide authority to handle these issues without the court’s involvement.

Caution: Financial Powers of Attorney Can Become Obsolete

Many Financial Powers of Attorney can be “obsolete” in as short as one year because many institutions don’t want to rely on stale documents. Depending on your circumstances, a stale, obsolete power of attorney might not be able to help you and your family with:

  • Insurance contracts – life, disability, long-term care, property, and casualty.
  • Annuity contracts.
  • Retirement plans – pension, profit-sharing and stock bonus plans, IRAs, 401(k)s, and 403(b)s.
  • Online financial accounts for banking and investments.
  • Online personal accounts, such as email, Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn.
  • Elder care and special needs planning.

If it’s been more than a year or two since you’ve signed your power of attorney, it might be time for a fresh one. Call me – I can help make sure you and your family are fully protected.

A Good Estate Plan Needs Up-to-Date “Ancillary” Documents

In the estate planning community, Healthcare Directives and Powers of Attorney are called “ancillary” documents. But don’t be fooled by the name – these documents are essential and should be updated as lives, finances, and laws change. Call us today with your questions. We’re always here to help.


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