Why do I need Advance Directives and Powers of Attorney?
Advance directives and powers of attorney can be extremely useful estate planning tools. These documents are tools to assist you and your loved ones, should you become incapacitated (either mentally or physically) or when death is imminent.
Generally speaking, an advance directive is a legal document detailing your wishes for particular medical treatment in given circumstances. The most common type of advance directive is a living will, which covers situations where death is imminent. A living will serves to inform doctors and medical staff of your medical choices and wishes, should you be unable to communicate those wishes. If you do not have a living will in place, your loved ones could be faced with making these difficult decisions for you, with little guidance as to your preferences for treatment.
Powers of Attorney
Powers of attorney are legal documents that give someone the power to make decisions on your behalf (either financial or medical) should you become incapacitated. Some common types of powers of attorney are as follows…
A durable power of attorney is a legal document that gives someone the power to handle your financial affairs, such as paying taxes or making house and car payments, should you become incapacitated.
A health care power of attorney is a legal document that gives someone the power to make medical decisions on your behalf, such as consent to a certain course of medical treatment, should you become incapacitated.
A health care power of attorney for minor children is a legal document that gives someone the power to make medical decisions on behalf of your minor child(ren), such as consent to a certain course of medical treatment, should you become incapacitated or unavailable. Parents of minor children should use this document when traveling together and without their children.
All of these documents are crucial components of a complete estate plan. In the alternative, should you become incapacitated and not have these documents in place, your family or loved ones would have to petition a court for guardianship over your person and/or your estate in order to make the decisions described above. The guardianship process is complicated, expensive, and could take months, whereas completing and signing the documents described above could take only a few hours.
It is important to note that all of the documents described above become void the minute you pass away. So, if you are concerned about someone having power over your finances after you are gone, you needn’t be worried. Upon your death, power and responsibility over your finances transfers to your personal representative, or executor, named in your Last Will & Testament, or your trustee under a trust.