The following are some of the Fundamental Documents that are part of many estate plans:
Last Will and Testament
A Last Will and Testament (a “Will”) is a written declaration of a person’s intentions for the distribution of his or her property upon death. A Will can be changed as often as necessary during a person’s lifetime. If you die without a Will, the state will dictate how and to whom your property is distributed. A Will controls who gets your property, who will be the guardian of your children, and who will manage your estate. A Will cannot require an heir to commit an illegal, immoral, or other act against public policy as a condition of receiving an inheritance.
General Powers of Attorney
A power of attorney is a legal document that authorizes another person to act on behalf of the person who created the power of attorney in the event that the principal cannot make those decisions his or herself. A general power of attorney gives broad authorizations to the agent – the attorney-in-fact is given all of the powers and rights that you have yourself. The attorney-in-fact may be able to make medical decisions, legal choices, or financial or business decisions. A general power of attorney ends on your death or incapacitation unless you rescind it before then.
Medical Powers of Attorney
A medical power of attorney designates a person to make health care decisions on your behalf if you become incapable of communicating your wishes. Your agent can authorize, withhold, or withdraw medical care, surgical procedures, nutrition or hydration medically supplied by tube through the nose, stomach, intestines, arteries, or veins, authorize admission or discharge from a medical, nursing, residential or similar facility, hire and fire medical, social service, or other support staff, request a physician to issue a do-not-resuscitate order, and to expend funds necessary to carry out medical treatment. Your agent will work with doctors and healthcare providers to ensure that you receive the type of care that you desire.
Under the Health Insurance and Portability Act ("HIPAA"), health care providers are prohibited from sharing your health records with anyone even family members without proper authorization. A proper HIPPA Disclosure Document provides that authorization, and allows the individuals that you select to access those health records when necessary.
A Living Will expresses a person’s wishes relating to their medical care should they become incapacitated. It goes into effect when doctors believe death is imminent or when the creator of the Living Will is unable to speak for him or herself due to illness or injury. Creating a Living Will will spare your family from having to make heart-wrenching decisions at an emotional time, and you can feel secure in knowing that when the end is near, you’ll be allowed to face your death on your own terms with dignity and grace.
Revocable Living Trusts
A revocable living trust is a popular estate planning tool created when you are alive that lets you control how your property is handled during your life and after death. It helps avoid probate and transfers your property privately and quickly. A trustee manages the property for the benefit of you or your family. You can change or cancel the trust at any time before your death. Upon your death, the trustee is generally directed to either distribute the trust property to your beneficiaries or to continue to hold it and manage it for the benefit of your beneficiaries.