A Will is simply a writing that sets forth who you want to inherit your property and other assets, and also nominates a personal representative (usually a trusted family member or friend) to administer the estate and be responsible for distributing your assets to the beneficiaries. If you are a parent of minor children, your Will can also nominate a guardian for your minor children if you would die before they became adults. Your Will must be properly drafted to be complete and unambiguous, and to avoid any future claim that your Will does not accurately reflect your intent. To be valid, the Will must also be properly signed and witnessed.
Health Care Power of Attorney
A Health Care Power of Attorney allows you to name a healthcare agent to make your healthcare decisions if you are not able to do so yourself. If you are competent and can make your own healthcare decisions, you will continue to do so. Only after two physicians determine that you are not competent to make your own healthcare decisions, will your healthcare agent be called upon to decide on your behalf.
Durable Financial Power of Attorney
A Durable Power of Attorney is a document in which you name someone as your agent and gives that person the authority to handle your property and finances. This does not take away your right to handle your own matters as well. A Power of Attorney is “Durable” if it specifies that it will not terminate if you are later incompetent. In all cases, a Power of Attorney terminates upon the death of the person granting the power.
A trust is a document signed by a person and contains terms under which the property contributed to the trust must be managed and distributed. The person who sets up the trust, known as the grantor or settlor, names a trustee who will hold and administer the trust property. There are many different types of trusts, including revocable trusts, testamentary trusts, special needs trusts and others, all of which have different purposes and features. A lawyer would need to analyze your financial situation and estate planning goals before giving meaningful advice as to whether or not you need a trust and, if so, what type of trust would be appropriate for you.
Living Wills and Declarations to Physicians
A Living Will and Declaration to Physicians is a signed and witnessed document that instructs your doctor to withhold or withdraw medical interventions if you are in a terminable condition and are unable to make decisions about medical treatment. It can contain a Do Not Resuscitate provision and also a provision instructing your doctors to use drugs and treatment that will keep you as comfortable and pain-free as reasonably possible.
Most of us won’t die from a specific traumatic event. The more likely scenario is that death will follow after a gradual deterioration of our physical and mental capacities. This could take place in the home or, what is more common, in an assisted living facility, hospital, nursing home, or hospice. While we are healthy and of sound mind, we should make clear in writing our end-of-life preferences. In addition to reviewing and updating, if necessary, your estate planning documents (Will/Trust, Powers of Attorney, Living Will), you could also decide to sign a Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) Order, which instructs medical personnel, including emergency medical personnel, not to use resuscitative measures. (The DNR Order could also be made part of your Health Care Power of Attorney or Living Will and Declaration to Physicians). You should also have in place a signed authorization allowing your health care agent or agents to speak with your doctors and review your medical information.
We offer a free consultation to review your existing estate planning and end-of-life documents or, if you don’t currently have anything in place, to discuss your estate planning and end-of-life wishes and options. There is no fee for this initial review. Only if you decide to have us create documents, or revise your current documents, will there be a fee for our services.