When you hear the phrase “estate planning” the first thing that probably comes to mind is a Last Will and Testament. But estate planning is broader than that and includes other important documents such as a power of attorney and an advance directive, also known as a health care proxy. These are essential tools in any estate plan, because while a Will dictates what happens to your assets after you pass, a properly written power of attorney and advance directive ensures you are taken care of during life when you cannot care or make decisions for yourself. Without them, you could be facing substantial difficulties later in life that you might otherwise be able to avoid. Here are five things that everyone should know about powers of attorney and advance directives when making their estate plans:
- A power of attorney can protect your bank account and financial assets
- A power of attorney allows you to appoint someone to watch over your legal and financial affairs when you cannot do it yourself. This person will have the authority to make financial decisions on your behalf, including authorizing bank transactions, writing and signing checks, and filing your tax returns. That way, you can be sure your money will be protected from people who might try to take advantage of you when you are incapacitated.
- Advance directives can protect your health care wishes
- One of the unfortunate aspects of advance directives is that they become most important when you are at your most vulnerable. Fortunately, if you have an advance directive or health care proxy in place, you can ensure there is someone available who can make medical decisions on your behalf, in the same way a power of attorney does for your legal and financial affairs. You can also supplement a health care proxy with a living will to ensure your healthcare choices for all situations, no matter how serious your condition is, will be respected.
- Advance directives are for people of any age
- While advance directives are normally advertised to senior citizens and those with chronic health issues, they can benefit anyone of any age. After all, sudden illness or injury can strike at any time, and even healthy people can become incapacitated without warning. By ensuring you have a proper estate plan in place, you will always know you will be taken care of.
- Without powers of attorney and advance directives, you may face unnecessary hardship
- On the other hand, if you do not have any of these measures in place, your loved ones may need to go through the process of getting a legal guardianship to take care of you if you are incapacitated and if you have family members competing or disagreeing with each other regarding the best ways to care for you. While a guardianship serves many of the same purposes as advance directives, it is a substantially more involved arrangement that requires court supervision. A guardian is appointed by the court, meaning you do not have the final say as to who will be able to make medical or financial decisions for you.
- Powers of attorney and advance directives should be periodically reviewed and updated
- Unfortunately, simply creating an estate plan once is usually not enough. All parts of your estate plan, including your powers of attorney and advance directives, should be periodically updated to ensure they accurately reflect your wishes. Any estate plan is likely to be affected by major life events, such as marriage, having children or the deaths of close family members. Contacting a lawyer with experience handling estate law matters can help you to determine what will best fit your needs.
The attorneys at the Law Offices of Hunziker, Jones, and Sweeney understand that the aging population has specific and diverse needs. The firm helps seniors and their families by handling all aspects of elder law including guardianships, end of life planning, asset preservation, Medicaid planning, and trusts and estates issues. If you need to consult on elder law issues, call The Law Offices of Hunziker, Jones & Sweeney at (973) 256-0456 or fill out our contact form for a consultation.