Basic Estate Planning Documents for Your Protection

Basic Estate Planning Documents for Your Protection

Having a living will is beneficial, but to be better protected, you would be well-advised to have all four of the following basic documents:

  • A living will, which tells your health care providers—and your health care agent, if you also have a health care power of attorney—what your wishes are if you become terminally ill or permanently unconscious.
  • A durable power of attorney for health care, which gives a trusted relative or friend the power to make all types of health care decisions if you are unable to do so.
  • A durable financial power of attorney, which gives a trusted relative or friend the ability to handle your financial matters if you become incapacitated.
  • A will or a trust, which ensures that your property goes to whom you wish to have it and provides for the care and custody of any minor children.

Warning: Caution must be used with a durable financial power of attorney, because the person you name as your agent could take your money and other property if he or she is dishonest. Often people elect to have a springing durable power of attorney, which only allows the agent to act if you are unable to do so. 

  • Introduction to Living Wills
    Modern life support systems can keep an individual's body alive for years, even if that person has no brain activity or is in constant pain. As competent adults, we have a constitutional right to make decisions about whether or not we want life support to continue when death is imminent or when a...
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  • Definition of a Living Will
    A living will is a document that outlines specific medical instructions to be applied if you are alive but are unable to communicate your wishes for yourself. Unlike last wills, they have nothing to do with property division after your death. Rather, they state that you do (or do not) want...
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  • Healthcare Power of Attorney
    A healthcare agent is a person whom you are trusting to make medical decisions on your behalf if you can't make them for yourself. Choosing your agent is an important decision, and you should think carefully about who you want to assume this responsibility. This person may one day be deciding...
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  • Revoking or Canceling a Living Will
    A living will can be canceled or revoked at any time. The revocation is effective when you (or someone else who witnessed your revocation) communicate it to your attending physician or healthcare provider. You can also cancel your living will by destroying it or by indicating, in writing, that it...
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  • Witnesses to a Living Will
    Because of the gravity of the decisions associated with a living will and the potential severity of the results, a living will must be witnessed by individuals who can swear that the document reflects the maker's wishes. These witnesses must be independent, and can't have an interest in receiving...
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  • Pregnancy and Living Wills
    Most state laws will not let you (or someone acting on your behalf) refuse life-extending medical procedures if you are pregnant. In such cases, your living will can be disregarded, unless there is no chance the fetus will survive.    
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