It’s simply human nature to avoid dwelling on some of the most unpleasant aspects of life, including illness, death and cognitive decline. Right now, however, we’re in the midst of a global pandemic that has dramatically halted life as we know it and forced us to contemplate our mortality. While many things are out of our control at this time, having the proper estate planning documents in place is one thing everyone can do to make things feel a little less uncertain. A last will and testament is the most commonly executed document in the course of estate planning, which sets forth how a person’s assets should be distributed upon his or her passing. Though a will is the most critical document to have in place upon your passing, there are other documents serving important functions during your lifetime that we recommend and include as part of our estate planning package:
- Advanced Medical Directive – Also known as a “living will,” this document specifies the measures and/or interventions you wish medical staff to take should you face terminal or critical illness and be rendered unable to communicate for yourself. This helps your loved ones make informed decisions in accordance with your end-of-life wishes.
- Financial Durable Power of Attorney – This document allows a person of your choosing (your “agent”) to act on your behalf in a number of transactions. The powers granted to your agent can be restricted or enlarged in any manner you choose. For example, you can authorize your agent to pay your bills, access your accounts, enter into contracts on your behalf, and even sell property. You should make sure your agent is someone you trust and someone who has a history of financial responsibility.
- Medical Durable Power of Attorney – A medical power of attorney differs from the Financial Durable Power of Attorney listed above in that it designates an agent to make health care decisions on your behalf should you become incapacitated and unable to act for yourself. Again, it’s important that the agent is someone you trust. It is also helpful to designate an agent that is relatively close to you geographically, so they can act quickly should an emergent situation arise.
- HIPAA Waiver – Medical privacy laws prevent medical staff from granting access to and communicating with your loved ones regarding your medical records and treatment. This standalone document designates the individuals with whom you want medical staff to communicate freely about your health information.
Once executed, we recommend that you store originals in a fire- and flood-proof safe or a safe deposit box at a financial institution. Wherever you store the originals, make sure someone has the key or combination to access them in the event you become incapacitated. Good quality copies of the HIPAA waiver, advanced directive, and powers of attorney should be given to your designated agent(s). Additionally, we recommend carrying a card in your wallet informing medical staff that you have executed an advanced directive, including a phone number and name of the individual who has immediate access to such document. If you do not have estate planning documents in place, or they are in need of updating, give us a call. We’re here to help you navigate the present and prepare for the future – all at a safe social distance.
Tjornehoj & Hack LLC, 2020