Five Must Have Legal Documents That Will Protect Your Wishes
By Don Drake, Connelly Law Offices, Ltd.
"It is important to have an estate plan in place to protect yourself and your family," said RJ Connelly III, a professional fiduciary and certified elder law attorney. "As we age, making decisions about finances and healthcare becomes more difficult due to declining health or mental capacity. Ensuring that these five legal documents are in place before it becomes too difficult to handle is imperative to guarantee that your wishes are met and you are protected."
"The will is a crucial legal document that outlines the distribution of assets after death. It is essential for all adults to possess a valid will, regardless of age, especially if they have dependent children," stated Attorney Connelly. "A will identifies guardians for children; without one, the courts decide who is responsible for raising them and what happens to the assets. Each state has specific formalities to observe while making a valid will, including writing, signature, witnesses, acknowledgment, and attestation, which may vary slightly depending on the state of residence."
"A revocable trust allows the grantor to make changes as they please or until they are no longer competent," said Attorney Connelly. "The grantor names a trustee to manage certain assets on behalf of the trust and distribute them to beneficiaries after the grantor's death. Assets in the trust pass outside of probate, and a potential guardianship process is unnecessary."
"A revocable trust is a tool used in estate planning to reduce probate fees and delays in asset distribution, protect assets from becoming public record and reduce federal estate taxes. It can hold various assets such as homes, checking accounts, life insurance policies, and jewelry."
Medical Directives or Advanced Directives
This document, also known as an Advance Directive, outlines a person's healthcare choices in anticipation of incapacitation, illness, or end-of-life care," stated Attorney Connelly. "It specifies whether the person wants medically heroic measures to remain alive or opt for a peaceful passing with less invasive care. For instance, if a person wants artificial support to breathe or eat via a ventilator or feeding tube, they can state their preference in a medical directive."
"Individuals often weigh medical intervention's impact on their quality of life. A medical directive guides medical teams and family members in decision-making for your care in cases of ill health, incapacitation, or end-of-life choices."
"This document allows an individual to make medical decisions on your behalf if you become incapacitated," Attorney Connelly said. "This person, known as the agent, has the power to choose which medical procedures are acceptable for you. A healthcare power of attorney differs from a medical directive as it grants decision-making authority to act on your behalf when you are unable to do so."
"The combination of a medical directive and healthcare power of attorney ensures that your healthcare preferences will be followed and decisions will be legally binding."
"Depending on how the document is written, a designated agent may have the power to make financial decisions for the principal, including managing overall finances, paying bills, selling property, accessing bank safe deposit boxes, contracting for services, renting property, and handling tax audits," said Attorney Connelly. There are four basic types of power of attorney:
Limited - This type of power of attorney is limited in scope and terminates either on a specified date or after completing a specific task. It allows an agent to act on your behalf for a particular purpose, such as signing a property deed while you are away.
General – This is a document that gives your attorney-in-fact the same rights and authority as you have. With a general power of attorney, your attorney-in-fact can sign documents, pay bills, and conduct financial transactions on your behalf. People with complex business affairs and busy travel schedules often use this type of document. The agent's power and legal designation will terminate upon your death or incapacitation unless you revoke the document before that time.
Durable – This type of power of attorney can be limited or general and will remain effective even if you become incapacitated. Without a durable power of attorney, there is no legal representation to act on your behalf in case of incapacity unless a court appoints a guardian or conservator. A durable power of attorney will remain in effect, managing your financial affairs until your death or choice to rescind it while mentally sound.
Springing – Much like a durable power of attorney, a springing power of attorney only becomes effective when you become incapacitated. To employ this power of attorney type, clearly write the identifying trigger for incapacity in the document.
Before selecting a power of attorney, understand the types and which suits your needs. Your chosen agent must be trustworthy, as they will control your finances. Consider using a professional fiduciary or experienced elder law attorney if you don't have a viable candidate.
You can speak with Connelly Law today to have these five essential legal documents included in your estate plan. Unexpected health events can happen at any age, and these documents will protect your wishes, assets, and well-being when you and your family are most vulnerable.