As an estate planning attorney, I quite frequently talk to people about whether they have engaged in estate planning (i.e., signed estate planning documents). The answer in many instances to this inquiry is a simple yes. But when I inquire further and ask what specific documents were signed, I receive some variety of this question in response “I signed a Will, isn’t that enough?”
Unfortunately, more times than not, my answer is “No.”
Advanced Directives – Basic Lifetime Planning
When many people think of estate planning, they think simply of signing a Will (i.e., a Last Will and Testament) and that is extremely important. But a Will only provides for what happens to a person’s individually owned assets after death. it is just as important, if not more so, to plan for an individual’s lifetime needs. That’s where the two main categories of advanced directives come in – financial directives and healthcare directives.
Financial Directives: Powers of Attorney
Financial directives come in the form of Powers of Attorney. With a Power of Attorney, the individual (the Principal) would give an Agent (or Agents) the power to act on his or her behalf in regard to financial matters. This power is vitally important if the individual becomes incapacitated during his or her lifetime and allows a trusted loved one or advisor to step in without the need to petition a Court to appoint a Guardian. Beyond the financial basics of bill paying and accessing funds, a properly drafted Power of Attorney can authorize the Agent to engage in planning for that individual’s long term care needs.
Health Care Directives: Health Care Proxy, Living Will and HIPAA Authorization
Similar to appointing an Agent to act on his or her behalf in regard to financial matters, with a Health Care Proxy, an individual can appoint a Health Care Agent (and a successor Agent) to make medical decisions at such a time when he or she is either unable to make those decisions or unable to communicate those decisions to others. Going beyond the ability to designate the person who will be making medical decisions, an individual may sign a Living Will in which he or she expresses end of life wishes and outlines whether he or she would want extraordinary measures taken, such as cardio-pulmonary resuscitation or artificial respiration or nutrition.
In addition to appointing a Health Care Agent and outlining end of life wishes in a Living Will, many people would want their loved ones to be able to talk freely with and get information from their medical providers, even if those loved ones are not serving in an official role. With a HIPAA Authorization, an individual can grant this right to a broader category of loved ones and know that in an emergency situation, those loved ones won’t be left struggling to get information.
Beyond Advanced Directives – Designation of Standby Guardian For A Minor Child
For parents with minor children, one of the main decisions they are faced with and one of the main reasons they end up signing a Will is centered around who will serve as Guardian of their minor children if they die. But what if something other than death happens to the parents, like some type of accident leaving them incapacitated in the hospital? Who would take care of their minor children then? Parents can plan ahead for this possibility by executing a Designation of Standby Guardian for a Minor Children and select who they would want to have the legal ability to take care of their minor children if just such an emergency arose.
How can Hollis Laidlaw & Simon help?
If you want to ensure that your estate planning documents take care of what happens during your lifetime, in addition to at your death, please reach out to the Trusts and Estates team at Hollis Laidlaw & Simon for a complimentary consultation.