Essential Legal Documents Everyone Needs

Young caregiver with a smiling clientAs we grow older, the importance of having the proper legal documents in place in the event of a temporary or even life threatening medical condition become even more crucial. Unfortunately, many people have not made the effort to put these basic protections in place. Failure to do so can cause you and your family serious legal problems, thousands of dollars in attorney’s fees and tons of unnecessary stress and worry.
To avoid these pitfalls, it is critical for you to create three specific legal documents that, when properly crafted, will ensure that your wishes are carried out when you do not have the capacity to make decisions for yourself, whether on a temporary or permanent basis.

Durable Power of Attorney

A Durable Power of Attorney lets you select someone (plus at least one alternate) to handle your business and legal affairs in the event that you become unable to handle matters on your own.

The person who gives the power is the principal, and the person who receives the power is the “attorney-in-fact” or “agent”. “Durable” in this application means that the agent`s power will survive the principal`s incapacity or disability. Among other things, the principal may delegate to the agent the authority to handle routine financial transactions such as depositing checks into the principal’s checking account, to pay the principal’s day-to-day living expenses, to prepare and file his/her tax returns, or even to sell his/her home. The document should also give the agent the authority to do long-term care planning on behalf of the principal.

It is important to note that the specific powers given to the agent are determined solely by the principal. The extend of the power given to the agent can be quite substantial if the principal elects to do so. For example, the principal could give his/her agent the right to make investment decisions such as buying or selling stocks and bonds or property owned by the principal.

There are some powers that the principal may not legally delegate. For example, the agent cannot prepare a will for the principal, vote in public elections on behalf of the principal, or initiate divorce proceedings on the principal`s behalf.

Health Care Proxy

A Health Care Proxy let’s you select someone (plus at least one alternate) to become your authorized representative to handle health care decisions for you should the time come when you are unable to make informed decisions. The authority given to your health care proxy may include allowing your proxy to decide whether or not to provide or continue life-sustaining measures as well as what medical processes and procedures should be used to diagnose and treat your condition.

While most hospitals and physicians offices can provide a simple health care proxy form, it is strongly recommended that you draft this document in advance, hopefully long before it would ever need to be used. This is important because you will want to give careful consideration to your choice for a health care representative. A family member or close friend are typical choices as they are likely to be very familiar with your wishes and preferences regarding various types of medical care and procedures. The more your representative knows, the better he/she will be able to make sound decisions on your behalf.

The health care proxy can also include your wishes regarding specific medical treatments or actions you would and would not want implemented. The document may also list any restrictions on your representative that you elect to implement.

Living Will

A Living Will is a legal document that a person uses to make known his or her wishes regarding end-of-life care. The document may also be referred to as an advance directive, health care directive, or a physician’s directive. It is important to have a living will as it informs your health care providers and your family about your desires for medical treatments that are considered life prolonging type treatments. A living will is applicable only when your ultimate recovery is not expected.

At the time the document is drafted, you will decide which treatments and procedures you do or do not want to receive if you are diagnosed with a terminal illness or end up in a permanent vegetative state. Many people find it beneficial to discuss treatment options for serious health conditions with their physician before drafting a living will. It is important to note that a living will not become effective unless you become incapacitated. As long as you are competent to make your own decisions, it will not become effective.

State specific laws and regulations are often applicable to the three crucial documents discussed in this article. It is strongly recommended that you employ competent and experienced legal counsel to answer your questions about these documents and to assist with the  preparation of these documents for you.

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