Category: Powers of Attorney

Less Restrictive Alternatives to Guardianship

Less Restrictive Alternatives to Guardianship

The benefit of less restrictive alternatives to guardianships is that they don’t require court approval or judicial oversight. They are also much easier to set up and end.

The standard for establishing incapacity is also less rigorous than the standard required for a guardianship, says Kiplinger’s recent article entitled “Guardianships Should Be a Last Resort – Consider These Less Draconian Options First.”

Limited guardianships. A guardianship takes away an individual’s right to make decisions, just as full guardianships do, but they are specific to only some aspects of the person’s life. A limited guardianship can be established to manage an individual’s finances and estate or to control medical and health care decisions. These types of guardianships still require court approval and must be supported by a showing of incapacity.

Powers of attorney. Powers of attorney can be established for medical or for financial decisions. A second set of eyes ensures that financial decisions are well-considered and not harmful to the individual or his or her estate. A medical power of attorney can allow an agent to get an injunction to protect the health and well-being of the subject, including by seeking a determination of mental incapacity. A durable power of attorney for health care matters gives the agent the right to make medical decisions on behalf of the subject if or when they are unable to do so for themselves. Unlike a guardianship, powers of attorney can be canceled when they are no longer needed.

Assisted decision-making. This agreement establishes a surrogate decision-maker who has visibility to financial transactions. The bank is informed of the arrangement and alerts the surrogate when it identifies an unusual or suspicious transaction. While this arrangement doesn’t completely replace the primary account holder’s authority, it creates a safety mechanism to prevent exploitation or fraud. The bank is on notice that a second approval is required before an uncommon transaction can be completed.

Wills and trusts. These estate planning documents let people map out what will happen in the event they become incapacitated or otherwise incapable of managing their affairs. Trusts can avoid guardianship by appointing a friend or relative to manage money and other assets. A contingent trust will let the executor manage assets if necessary. For seniors, it may be wise to name a co-trustee who can oversee matters and step in should the trustor lose the capacity to make good decisions.

Speak with your estate planning attorney to explore if these less restrictive alternatives to guardianship work for your family’s situation. If you would like to learn more about guardianships, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Kiplinger (July 7, 2022) “Guardianships Should Be a Last Resort – Consider These Less Draconian Options First”

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The Risks of Creating Your Own Estate Plan

The Risks of Creating Your Own Estate Plan

Everyone should have an estate plan and it is wise to consult an estate planning attorney to create your plan. But not everyone wants to take the time. Some even feel they can do it just fine themselves. We call it the brother-in-law syndrome: your brother-in-law knows everything, even though he doesn’t. He tells anyone who’ll listen how much money he’s saved by doing things himself. Sadly, it’s the family who has to make things right after the do-it-yourself estate plan fails. This is the message from a recent article titled “Dangers of Do-It-Yourself Estate Planning” from Coastal Breeze News. It is vital that you understand the risks of creating your own estate plan.

Online estate planning documents are dangerous for what they leave out. An estate plan prepared by an experienced estate planning attorney takes care of the individual while they are living, as well as taking care of distributing assets after they die. Many online forms are available. However, they are often limited to wills, and an estate plan is far more than a last will and testament.

An estate planning attorney knows you need a will, power of attorney, health care power of attorney, a living will and possibly trusts. These are essential protections needed but often overlooked by the do-it-yourselfer.

A Power of Attorney allows you to name a person to manage your personal affairs, if you are incapacitated. It allows your agent to handle your banking, investments, pay bills and take care of your property. There is no one-size-fits-all Power of Attorney. You may wish to give a spouse the power to take over most of your accounts. However, you might also want someone else to be in charge of selling your shares in a business. A Power of Attorney drafted by an estate planning attorney will be created to suit your unique needs. POAs also vary by state, so one purchased online may not be valid in your jurisdiction.

You also need a Health Care Power of Attorney or a Health Care Surrogate. This is a person named to make medical decisions for you, if you are too sick or injured to do so. These documents also vary by state,. There’s no guarantee that a general form will be accepted by a healthcare provider. An estate planning attorney will create a valid document.

A Living Will is, and should be, a very personalized document to reflect your wishes for end-of-life care. Some people don’t want any measures taken to keep them alive if they are in a vegetative state, for instance, while others want to be kept alive as long as there is evidence of brain activity. Using a standard form negates your ability to make your wishes known.

If the Power of Attorney, Health Care Power of Attorney or Living Will documents are not prepared properly, declared invalid or are missing, the family will need to go to court to obtain a guardianship, which is the legal right to make decisions on your behalf. Guardianships are expensive and intrusive. If your incapacity is temporary, you’ll need to undo the guardianship when you are recovered. Otherwise, you have no legal rights to conduct your own life.

DIYers are also fond of setting up property and accounts so they are Payable on Death (POD) or Transfer on Death (TOD) accounts. This only works if the beneficiaries outlive the original owner. If the beneficiary dies first, then the asset goes to the beneficiary’s children. Many financial institutions won’t actually allow certain accounts to be set up this way.

Another risk of creating your own estate plan: real estate. Putting children on the title as owners with rights of survivorship sounds like a reasonable solution. However, if the children predecease the original owner, their children will be rightful owners. If one grandchild doesn’t want to sell the property and another grandchild does, things can turn ugly and expensive. If heirs of any generation have creditors, liens may be placed on the property and no sale can happen until the liens are satisfied.

With all of these sleight of hand attempts at DIY estate planning comes the end all of all problems: taxes.

When children are added to a title, it is considered a gift and the children’s ownership interest is taxed as if they bought into the property for what the parent spent. When the parent dies and the estate is settled, the children have to pay income taxes on the difference between their basis and what the property sells for. It is better if the children inherit the property, as they’d get a step-up in basis and avoid the income tax problem.

Finally, there’s the business of putting all the assets into one child’s name, with the handshake agreement they’ll do the right thing when the time comes. There’s no legal recourse if the child decides not to share according to the parent’s verbal agreement.

Don’t take the risk of creating your own estate plan. A far easier, less complicated answer is to make an appointment with an estate planning attorney, have the correct documents created properly and walk away when your brother-in-law starts talking. If you would like to learn more about the risks of DIY planning, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Coastal Breeze News (Aug. 4, 2022) “Dangers of Do-It-Yourself Estate Planning”

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Key Documents Every College Kid Needs

Key Documents Every College Kid Needs

In the United States, as soon as a minor turns 18, they’re typically considered a legal adult. As a result, parents no longer have any authority to make decisions for their child, including financial and health care decisions. That is why there are key documents every college kid needs.

Yahoo’s recent article entitled “Don’t Let Your Child Leave for College Without Signing Three Critical Documents” asks what if your adult child becomes sick or is in an accident and ends up hospitalized?

Because of privacy laws, known as Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), you wouldn’t have any rights to get any information from the hospital regarding your child’s condition. Yes, we know you’re her mother. However, that’s the law!

You also wouldn’t have the ability to access his or her medical records or intercede on your child’s behalf regarding medical treatment and care.

If your child’s unable to communicate with doctors, you’d also have to ask a judge to appoint you as your child’s guardian before being able to be told of his or her condition and to make any healthcare decisions for them.

While this is hard when your child is still living at home, it’s a huge headache if your child is attending college away from home.

However, there’s a relatively easy fix to address this issue:

Ask an experienced estate planning attorney about drafting three legal documents for your child to sign:

  • A Durable Power of Attorney (DPOA) for Health Care. This document designates the parent as your child’s patient advocate.
  • A HIPAA Authorization gives you access to your child’s medical records and lets you to discuss his or her health condition with doctors.
  • A DPOA for Financial Matters, designates the parent as your child’s agent, so that you can manage your child’s financial affairs, including things like banking and bill paying, in case your child becomes sick or injured, or is unable to act for any reason.

If you are a parent, it is imperative that you consider these key documents that every college kid needs. If you would like to read more about estate planning for young adults, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference:  Yahoo (Aug. 2, 2022) “Don’t Let Your Child Leave for College Without Signing Three Critical Documents”

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Even Young Adults Need a Will

Even Young Adults Need a Will

Even young adults need a will. Everyone, age 18 and older, needs at least some basic estate planning documents. That’s true even if you own very little. You still need an advance health care directive and a power of attorney. These documents designate agents to make decisions for you, in the event you become incapacitated.

The Los Angeles Daily News’ recent article entitled “Estate planning, often overwhelming, starts with the basics” reminds us that incapacity doesn’t just happen to the elderly. It can happen from an accident, a health crisis, or an injury. To have these documents in place, you just need to state the person you want to make decisions for you and generally what those decisions should be.

An experienced estate planning attorney will help you draft your will by using a questionnaire you complete before your initial meeting. This helps you to organize and list the information required. It also helps the attorney spot issues, such as taxes, blended families and special needs. You will list your assets — real property, business entities, bank accounts, investment accounts, retirement accounts, stocks, bonds, cars, life insurance and anything else you may own. The estimated or actual value of each item should also be included. If you have life insurance or retirement plans, attach a copy of the beneficiary designation form.

An experienced estate planning attorney will discuss your financial and family situation and offer options for a plan that will fit your needs.

The attorney may have many different solutions for the issues that concern you and those you may not have considered. These might include a child with poor money habits, a blended family where you need to balance the needs of a surviving spouse with the expectations of the children from a prior marriage, a pet needing ongoing care, or your thoughts about who to choose as your trustee or power of attorney.

There are many possible solutions, and you aren’t required to know them before you move ahead with your estate planning.

Young adults need a will. If you are an adult, you know generally what you own, your name and address and the names of your spouse and children or any other beneficiaries you’d like to include in your plan. So, you’re ready to move ahead with your estate planning. The key is to do this now and not procrastinate. If you would like to learn more about estate planning for young adults, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: Los Angeles Daily News (July 24, 2022) “Estate planning, often overwhelming, starts with the basics”

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There are Alternatives to Guardianship

There are Alternatives to Guardianship

Guardianships are drastic and very invasive. They strip individuals of their legal autonomy and establish the guardian as the sole decision maker. To become a guardian requires strong evidence of legal incapacity, and approval by a judge, explains an article titled “Guardianships Should Be a Last Resort–Consider These Less Draconian Options First” from Kiplinger. They should not be undertaken unless there is a serious need to do so. Once they’re in place, guardianships are difficult to undo. There are alternatives to guardianship.

If an elderly person with dementia failed to make provisions durable powers of attorney for health care and for financial matters before becoming ill, a guardianship may be the only ways to protect the person and their estate. There are also instances where an aging parent is unable to care for themselves properly but refuses any help from family members.

Another scenario is an aging grandparent who plans to leave funds for minor beneficiaries. Their parents will need to seek guardianships, so they can manage the money until their children reach the age of majority.

Laws vary from state to state, so if you might need to address this situation, you’ll need to speak with an estate planning attorney in the elderly parent or family member’s state of residence. For the most part, each state requires less restrictive alternatives to be attempted before guardianship proceedings are begun.

Alternatives to guardianship include limited guardianship, focused on specific aspect of the person’s life. This can be established to manage the person’s finances only, or to manage only their medical and health care decisions. Limited guardianships need to be approved by a court and require evidence of incapacity.

Powers of attorney can be established for medical or financial decisions. This is far less burdensome to achieve and equally less restrictive. A Healthcare Power of Attorney will allow a family member to be involved with medical care, while the Durable General Power of Attorney is used to manage a person’s personal financial affairs.

Some families take the step of making a family member a joint owner on a bank, home, or an investment account. This sounds like a neat and simple solution, but assets are vulnerable if the family member has any creditor issues or risk exposure. A joint owner also doesn’t have the same fiduciary responsibility as a POA.

An assisted decision-making agreement creates a surrogate decision-maker who can see the incapacitated person’s financial transactions. The bank is notified of the arrangement and alerts the surrogate when it sees a potentially suspicious or unusual transaction. This doesn’t completely replace the primary account holder’s authority. However, it does create a limited means of preventing exploitation or fraud. The bank is put on notice and required to alert a second person before completing potentially fraudulent transactions.

Trusts can also be used to protect an incapacitated person. They can be used to manage assets, with a contingent trustee. For an elderly person, a co-trustee can step in if the grantor loses the capacity to make good decisions.

Planning in advance is the best solution for incapacity. Guardianship is a very significant step, so consider the alternatives first. Talk with an experienced estate planning attorney to protect loved ones from having to take draconian actions to protect your best interests. If you would like to read more about guardianships, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Kiplinger (July 7, 2022) “Guardianships Should Be a Last Resort–Consider These Less Draconian Options First”

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Estate planning is vital for Unmarried Couples

Estate planning is vital for Unmarried Couples

Traditional or non-traditional couples have the option of marrying, but not all couples wish to, according to a recent article from Kiplinger, “Marriage: When You’d Rather Not.”  Planning for a life together without the legal protections provided by marriage means couples of all kinds who decide not to marry must be sure to do estate planning. Otherwise, they may find themselves in life-altering situations concerning property ownership, parental rights, and inheritances. Estate planning is vital for unmarried couples. It’s a gift to give each other.

Start with a last will and testament. Unmarried couples without children need a will, if they want to leave each other property. Otherwise, the laws of most states will have property going to the legal next-of-kin, which might be parents, siblings, or cousins. No matter how many decades the couple has been together, if they are not married, they have no legal inheritance rights.

Other estate planning basics are important to protect each other while living. Without documents like a financial power of attorney and a health care proxy for both partners, medical and other health care providers might not allow your partner to make critical health decisions on your behalf. For couples where families disapprove of their unmarried status, asking a parent to make these decisions, especially in an emergency situation, could magnify a crisis or worse, lead to a result neither partner wants.

Accounts with named beneficiaries, which typically include life insurance policies, retirement funds, investment accounts and similar financial products, aren’t distributed by the terms of your will. Instead, they pass directly to beneficiaries on death. Even traditional married couples run into trouble when beneficiary designations are not updated.

Every time there is a life change, including death, birth, break-up, or any big life event, updating beneficiaries is a good idea for all concerned.

Unmarried couples with children need to be especially diligent about estate planning. If a biological parent dies, their assets go to their biological children. However, when the non-biological parent dies, all of their assets could go to other relatives, unless a will is in place and beneficiaries are properly named. What about if the non-biological parent takes the step of legally adopting the children? They should still check on their parental rights. If accounts do not have beneficiaries named, the assets will go to next of kin, a parent or sibling and not the child or partner.

Home ownership is another financial issue to tackle for unmarried couples. They need a document clearly stating how the home is owned, how much each invested in the home, who is responsible for mortgage and tax payments, how to divide the home if it’s sold and who has the right to live in the home if the couple breaks up or if one dies or becomes disabled. If a home is solely in one person’s name and the other partner dies, the surviving partner may end up being evicted if the right protections are not in place.

For unmarried couples, meeting with an estate planning attorney is vital to protect each other now and in the future. If you would like to read more about planning for unmarried couples, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Kiplinger (June 16, 2022) “Marriage: When You’d Rather Not.”

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Deciding where to Store your Documents is Critical

Deciding where to Store your Documents is Critical

It’s a common series of events: an elderly parent is rushed to the hospital in the middle of the afternoon and once children are notified, the search for the Power of Attorney, Living Will and Health Care Power of Attorney begins. It’s easily avoided with planning and communication, according to an article from The News-Enterprise titled “Give thought to storing your estate papers.” However, just because the solution is simple doesn’t mean most people address it. Deciding where to store your documents is critical.

As a general rule, estate planning documents should be kept together in a fire and waterproof container in a location known to fiduciaries.

Most people think of a bank safe deposit box as a protected place. However, it’s not a good location for several reasons. Individuals may not have access to the contents of the safe deposit box, unless they are named on the account. Even with their names on the account, emergencies don’t follow bankers’ hours. If the Power of Attorney giving the person the ability to access the safe deposit box is inside the safe deposit box, bank officials are not likely to be willing to open the box to an unknown person.

A well-organized binder of documents in a fire and waterproof container at home makes the most sense.

Certain documents should be given in advance to certain agencies or offices. For instance, health care documents, like the Health Care Power of Attorney and Advance Medical Directive (or Living Will) should be given to each healthcare provider to keep in the person’s medical record and be sure they are accessible 24/7 to health care providers. Make sure that there are copies for adult children or whoever has been designated to serve as the Health Care Power of Attorney.

Power of Attorney documents should be given to each financial institution or agency in preparation for use, if and when the time comes.

It may feel like an overwhelming task to contact banks and brokerage houses in advance to make sure they accept a Power of Attorney form in advance. However, imagine the same hours plus the immense stress if this has to be done when a parent is incapacitated or has died. Banks, in particular, require POAs to be reviewed by their own attorneys before the document can be approved, which could take weeks to complete.

Depending upon where you live, Durable General Powers of Attorney may be filed at the county clerk’s office. If a POA is filed but is later revoked and a new document created, or if a fiduciary needs to convey real estate property with the powers conferred by a POA, the document at the county clerk’s office should be updated.

Last will and testaments are treated differently than POA documents. Wills are usually kept at home and not filed anywhere until after death.

Each fiduciary listed in the documents should be given a copy of the documents. This will be helpful when it’s time to show proof they are a decision maker.

Having estate planning documents properly prepared by an experienced estate planning attorney is the first step. Step two is ensuring they are safely and properly stored, so they are ready for use when needed. Deciding where to store your documents is critical to ensuring your planning happens the way you designed. If you would like to learn more about estate planning documents, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: The Times-Enterprise (June 11, 2022) “Give thought to storing your estate papers”

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Minimizing taxes should be a part of your plan

Minimizing Taxes should be a Part of your Plan

Let’s get this out of the way: preparing for death doesn’t mean it will come sooner. Quite the opposite is true. Most people find preparing and completing their estate plan leads to a sense of relief. They know if and when any of life’s unexpected events occur, like incapacity or death, they have done what was necessary to prepare, for themselves and their loved ones. Minimizing taxes should be a part of your plan.

It’s a worthwhile task, says the recent article titled “Preparing for the certainties in life: death and taxes” from Cleveland Jewish News and doesn’t need to be overwhelming. Some attorneys use questionnaires to gather information to be brought into the office for the first meeting, while others use secure online portals to gather information. Then, the estate planning attorney and you will have a friendly, candid discussion of your wishes and what decisions need to be made.

Several roles need to be filled. The executor carries out the instructions in the will. A guardian is in charge of minor children, in the event both parents die. A person named as your attorney in fact (or agent) in your Power of Attorney (POA) will be in charge of the business side of your life. A POA can be as broad or limited as you wish, from managing one bank account to pay household expenses to handling everything. A Health Care Proxy is used to appoint your health care agent to have access to your medical information and speak with your health care providers, if you are unable to.

Your estate plan can be designed to minimize probate. Probate is the process where the court reviews your will to ensure its validity, approves the person you appoint to be executor and allows the administration of your estate to go forward.

Depending on your jurisdiction, probate can be a long, costly and stressful process. In Ohio, the law requires probate to be open for at least six months after the date of death, even if your estate dots every “i” and crosses every “t.”

Part of the estate planning process is reviewing assets to see how and if they might be taken out of your probate estate. This may involve creating trusts, legal entities to own property and allow for easier distribution to heirs. Charitable donations might become part of your plan, using other types of trusts to make donations, while preserving assets or creating an income stream for loved ones.

Minimizing taxes should be a part of your estate plan. While the federal estate tax exemption right now is historically high $12.06 million per person, on January 1, 2025, it drops to $5.49 million adjusted for inflation. While 2025 may seem like a long way off, if your estate plan is being done now, you might not see it again for three or five years. Planning for this lowered number makes sense.

Reviewing an estate plan should take place every three to five years to keep up with changes in the law, including the lowered estate tax. Large events in your family also need to prompt a review—trigger events like marriage, death, birth, divorce and the sale of a business or a home. If you would like to read more about taxes and their influence of estate planning, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Cleveland Jewish News (May 13, 2022) “Preparing for the certainties in life: death and taxes”

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Be certain You've got Legal Documents for your College Kid

Be certain You’ve got Legal Documents for your College Kid

There are few things more exciting as a parent than seeing your child come of age and embark on adulthood. That often means leaving home to start a career or enter college. It is at this stage that you need to be certain you’ve got legal documents in place for your college kid. The Press-Enterprise’s recent article entitled “Legal documents for young adults” describes some of the important legal and estate planning documents your “kid” (who’s now an adult) should have.

HIPAA Waiver. This form allows medical personnel to provide information to the parties you’ve named in the document. Without it, even mom would be prohibited from accessing her 19-year-old adult’s health information—even in an emergency. However, know that this form doesn’t authorize anyone to make decisions. For that, see Health Care Directives below.

Health Care Directive. Also known as a health care power of attorney, this authorizes someone else to make health care decisions for you and details the decisions you’d like made.

Durable Power of Attorney. Once your child turns 18, you’re no longer able to act on their behalf, make decisions for them, or enter into any kind of an agreement binding them. This can be a big concern, if your adult child becomes incapacitated. A springing durable power of attorney is a document that becomes effective only upon the incapacity of the principal (the person signing the document). It’s called a “springing” power because it springs into effect upon incapacity, rather than being effective immediately.

A durable power of attorney, whether springing or immediate, states who can make decisions for you upon your incapacity and what powers the agent has. The designated agent will typically be able to access bank accounts, pay bills, file insurance claims, engage attorneys or other professionals, and in general, act on behalf of the incapacitated person.

They’ll always be your babies, but once your child turns 18, he or she is legally an adult.

Be certain that you’ve got the legal documents in place to be there for your college kid in case of an emergency.

Remember a spring break, when they’re home for summer after their 18th birthday, or a senior road trip are all opportunities when these documents may be needed. If you would like to learn more about estate planning for young adults, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: The Press-Enterprise (April 2, 2022) “Legal documents for young adults”

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Documents You need if You become Incapacitated

Documents You need if You become Incapacitated

There are documents you need if you become incapacitated. If advance planning has been done, your family will have the legal documents you need. Just as importantly, they will know what your wishes are for incapacity and end-of-life care. If there was no planning, your loved ones will have to start with a lengthy application to the court to have someone named a guardian. They are a person who has legal authority to make medical decisions on your behalf.

Having a plan in place beforehand is always better, explains the article “If I become incapacitated, who makes healthcare decisions?” from Waterdown Daily Times.

Another reason to have these documents if you become incapacitated: the court does not require the guardian to be a family member. Anyone can request a guardian to be appointed for another incapacitated individual, whether incapacity is a result of illness or injury. If no planning has been done, a guardianship must be established.

This is not an easy or inexpensive process. A petition must be filed, and the person in question must be legally declared incapacitated. In some cases, these filings are done secretly, and a guardianship maybe established without the person or their family even knowing it has occurred.

There are also many cases where one family member believes they are better suited for the task, and the family becomes embroiled in controversy about who should serve as the guardian.

The entire problem can be resolved by working with an experienced estate planning attorney long before incapacity becomes an issue. A comprehensive estate plan will include a plan for distribution of assets (Last Will and Testament), Power of Attorney, Healthcare Power of Attorney and a Living Will.

These last two documents work together to describe your wishes for end-of-life care, medical treatment and any other medical issues you would want conveyed to healthcare providers.

Unfortunately, the pandemic revealed just how important it is to have these matters taken care of. If you did create these documents in the last few years, it would be wise to review them, since the people in key roles may have changed. While the idea of being on a respirator may have at one time been a clear and firm no, you may feel otherwise now.

A Healthcare Power of Attorney is an advance directive used to name a person, who becomes your “agent,” to make healthcare decisions. If there is no Healthcare Power of Attorney, physicians will ask a family member to make a decision. If no family can be reached in a timely manner, the court may be asked to appoint a legal guardian to be the decision-maker. In an urgent situation, the physician will have to make the decision, and it may not be the decision you wanted.

The Living Will explains your wishes for end-of-life care. For instance, if you become seriously ill and don’t want a feeding tube or artificial heart machine, you can say so in this document. You can even state who you do and do not wish to visit you when you are sick.

The best advice if you become incapacitated is to have a complete estate plan, including these vital documents you need, created by an experienced estate planning attorney. If you have an estate plan and have not reviewed it in the past three to five years, a review would be best for you and your loved ones. If you would like to learn more about powers of attorney, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Watertown Daily Times (April 14, 2022) “If I become incapacitated, who makes healthcare decisions?”

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Information in our blogs is very general in nature and should not be acted upon without first consulting with an attorney. Please feel free to contact Texas Trust Law to schedule a complimentary consultation.
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