THE LEGAL DOCUMENTS YOU MUST HAVE
Just about everyone knows what a will is. Of course, many of us do not have one. We say, “I’ll get around to it”. A will becomes effective when you die. There are also documents that can be relied upon if you can no longer handle your affairs while you are living. Everyone one needs them.
Suppose your elderly aunt becomes incapacitated, physically unable to get around, and is somewhat forgetful. She has no children. You, her beloved niece, have been watching out for her for years. Does that mean you can write checks to pay her bills? Does that mean you can make decisions affecting her medical care? Does that mean you can sign her in to a nursing home? The short answer is no.
Your aunt needs an Asset Management Durable General Power of Attorney. It’s a mouthful. We will refer to it as a P/A. In that document, your aunt will name an agent someone she trusts, someone who will take care of her assets only for her benefit. The P/A will contain many powers: the ability to write checks for her, enter her safe deposit box, make her investments, sell her investments, borrow money for her, make gifts for her, and lots more. Every P/A does not necessarily contain the same powers as every other P/A. Your aunt and her attorney should speak until the attorney understands your aunt’s goals, the person she wants to name as the agent, the powers she wants to give to the agent and the powers she wants to retain.
The second document your aunt needs is a health care document. We call it an Advance Health Care Declaration / Health Care Power of Attorney — another mouthful. This document combines what is referred to as a Living Will and a Health Care P/A. You need the latter due to government regulations which otherwise prohibit the release of medical information to those other than the patient. The Declaration enables your aunt to tell her agent whether she wants certain medical care. It will answer whether she wants medical providers to keep her alive no matter what, to let her die without herculean efforts, or, as is usually the case, somewhere in between.
If your aunt waits too long to have these documents prepared, there could well be the need to petition the court for the appointment of a legal guardian. There are two types of guardians – of a person and of the estate. This procedure is far more expensive and cumbersome than having properly prepared asset and health care P/As.
Last, your aunt should have a will. Your aunt wants to pass on some of her assets to her heirs. The preparation of a will and the appropriate P/As will also go along way to helping your aunt reach that goal.
Everyone needs these P/As, whether they are married, living together, single, with or without children. We should all be prepared.