As an attorney specializing in estate planning, I meet with clients on a daily basis to discuss their family and financial goals throughout their lifetime and after their death. When people find out what I do and who I serve, the same types of questions arise. Do I need a will if I am not rich? I have a will, what else do I need? If something happens to my spouse and me, who is going to care for our children? What happens if I become unable to take care of myself?
Here are 3 legal documents every adult should have regardless of net worth:
1. Durable Power of Attorney.
A Power of Attorney allows someone you trust to make general and specific business and legal decisions on your behalf in case you are unable to do so due to disability, illness or incompetency. It will give your family access to your bank accounts, allow them to pay your bills, and make financial and legal decisions for you if you are hospitalized or otherwise incapacitated.
Without a valid power of attorney in place, your family will be forced to go to court to establish conservatorship and guardianship. Not only are those legal proceedings cumbersome and time consuming, they can also be quite expensive.
However, by having a power of attorney in place, you have the power to choose who makes decisions for you rather than leaving that for a court to decide.
2. A Healthcare Proxy.
A healthcare proxy is another name for a living will or healthcare directive. It is a document that enables you to appoint someone to make healthcare decisions and express your wishes when you cannot actively make such decisions yourself. Appointing a healthcare agent ensures that you will get the care that you would have chosen for yourself if you were able to do so.
If you are in a situation where you can’t make healthcare decisions and you did not choose a healthcare agent, the state law will determine who makes the decisions on your behalf. Although the law in most state allows close family to act on your behalf, your preference might be different. In some states, the decision about your healthcare may be left to your hospital administrators or doctor. Sometimes your loved ones have to go through a time-consuming and costly legal process to obtain the rights to make various medical decisions for you.
3. A Will.
A will is a document that designates beneficiaries to receive personal belongings and assets, appoint estate administrators, establish guardians for minor children, and express burial preferences after your death. You have the right to decide what happens to your assets when your life comes to an end. The loss of a loved one is hard on a family, but dying without a will creates an additional burden for your loved ones.
The moment children enter your family, you should have a will in place in order to plan for their care and support until they become adults. It is also important to ensure that your will is updated after any major family change such as death of a spouse or the birth of a child. These changes can supersede previous editions and they must be properly addressed or you risk some or all of your will becoming invalid.
These 3 documents are essential for every adult in order to plan for your family legacy, avoid costly court cases and allow access to your assets in time of a crisis.
Estate Planning Attorney, Brian M. Douglas assists clients in all areas of life and wealth planning. For more information about Brian Douglas and estate planning visit: http://www.atlantagaestateplanning.com.