ESTATE PLANNING DOCUMENTS

(Expand each title below to learn more about each document)

A Last Will and Testament (“Will”) is the legal document that communicates a person's final wishes, as pertaining to possessions and dependents. It is the legal document by which you identify those individuals, entities, or charities that are to receive your property and possessions on your death. These individuals and charities are commonly referred to as the beneficiaries under your Will. In addition, within the provisions of your last will and testament, you nominate an Executor to be responsible for the proper administration of your estate and the disposition of your property to your intended beneficiaries. The Executor may be an individual or an institution. After your death, the person or entity you have nominated to be your Executor petitions the court to be appointed Executor of your estate. After being appointed, the Executor manages your estate’s financial affairs and ensures that your property is distributed in accordance with your wishes as indicated in the last will & testament.

Also, if you have young children, you may use the last will and testament to nominate a Guardian(s) for your children who are under 18 years at the time of your death and for whom a guardianship would be necessary (i.e., meaning that your children’s other parent is already deceased at your death).

A Will can also contain a trust within its provisions that will allow for the management of funds for the benefit of any of your beneficiaries that are legally or physically incapable of managing the money themselves (such as children under the age of 18).

Why do you need a Will? There are many reasons. For examples, if you die without a Will your property will be distributed by a judge in accordance with the law of the state in which your are residing at the time of your death. The people you most love and care for may not receive all of the property you would have desired upon your passing.

Similarly, if you don’t have a Will, the courts will determine who is “most fit” to be the guardian of your children. And it may not be someone who would have been your first choice.

A Durable Power of Attorney is a legal document that allows you to appoint a family member, friend, or someone else to be your legal representative if you are incapable of managing your affairs yourself if you become temporarily or permanently incapable through some debilitation.

The powers that you grant your representative can be as broad or as narrow as you want. Typically, they will involve items such as being able to access your finances; otherwise deal with your assets (such as selling your car for you); and collect benefits such as Medicaid or insurance on your behalf.

You can also make the authorization immediately effective or only upon your incapacity.

Why should you have a Durable Power of Attorney? If you don’t have one and become incapacitated, your life can quickly spiral out of control. For example, no will be able to make your mortgage or car payments for you, getting you into potential trouble with your creditors. Also, it might be impossible for someone to pay for your medical care while incapacitated.

Advance Directive to Physicians

An Advance Directive to Physicians (also sometimes known as a Living Will) is designed to help you communicate your wishes about medical treatment at some time in the future when you are unable to make your wishes known because of illness or injury. These wishes are usually based on personal values. In particular, you may want to consider what burdens or hardships of treatment you would be willing to accept for a particular amount of benefit obtained if you were seriously ill.

In an Advance Directive, you will identify the sorts of treatments you want (or don’t want) if you have a terminal or irreversible condition. You will also specify what you want the hospital to do if you are unable to safely take nutrition, fluids, or nutrition and fluids. Also, you can define how you want things managed if you pass away, such as how you want your remains disposed of and if you want to donate any of your organs to science.

Medical Power of Attorney

A Medical Power of Attorney gives the person you name as your agent the authority to make any and all health care decisions for you in accordance with your wishes, including your religious and moral beliefs, when you are no longer capable of making them yourself. Because "health care" means any treatment, service, or procedure to maintain, diagnose, or treat your physical or mental condition, your agent has the power to make a broad range of health care decisions for you. Your agent may consent, refuse to consent, or withdraw consent to medical treatment and may make decisions about withdrawing or withholding life-sustaining treatment. A physician must comply with your agent's instructions or allow you to be transferred to another physician.

Your agent's authority typically begins when your doctor certifies that you lack the competence to make health care decisions.

Your agent is obligated to follow your instructions when making decisions on your behalf. Unless you state otherwise, your agent has the same authority to make decisions about your health care as you would have had.

HIPAA Release

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, also known as HIPAA, was created in 1996 by the US Congress to protect the privacy of your health information. The act prohibits your health care providers from releasing your health care information unless you have provided your health care provider with a HIPAA release form.

A HIPAA Release authorization allows you to name the person(s) who can have access to your medical information so that your doctor or insurance company have no hesitations about sharing your medical information with those whom you have authorized.

Who should execute this suite of documents? Anyone over the age of 18 who wants to ensure that they are given care consistent with their morals and values if they become incapacitated. For example, if you are over 18 but perhaps still in college and living with your parents and are in an accident, neither your mother nor father will be able to consult with physicians about your care. They won’t be able to see your records either; and won’t even technically be entitled to know how you are doing.

A document that let’s you ensure that your littlest love ones are always in good hands.

A Pet Guardian Assignment Agreement is a contract between you and a trusted friend or family member that authorizes them to take care of one or more of your pets if your are incapacitated (such as being in the hospital) or otherwise physically unable to take care of them (such as if you’re stuck overseas because of flight problems). The agreement authorizes your assigned guardian to take possession of your pets and keep them healthy.

The agreement also contains a limited power of attorney authorizing your assigned guardian to do those things necessary to keep your pets in good condition.

Who should execute a Pet Guardian Assignment? Anyone over the age of 18 who owns a pet and wants to ensure that their pet is given care consistent with their morals and values if they become incapacitated.