Why Health Care Documents are Critical to Your Estate Plan

Why Health Care Documents are Critical to Your Estate Plan

Many of our clients tell us that creating a last will and testament is the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about estate planning. While a will is a fundamental component of successful estate planning, including detailed health care documents in your estate plan is an effective way of ensuring any medical decisions made on your behalf are ones that you would approve of.

One of the main benefits of establishing advance directives is that you, as the creator, have the opportunity to create specific and detailed instructions with regards to the future medical care you wish to receive. Further, by creating advance directives, you have the ability to choose someone to act as your health care agent in the event you are unable to make medical decisions for yourself.

To help you make an informed decision about the types of planning documents you need, let us share three important health care documents that you should consider adding to your estate plan.

  1. Living Will

A living will is the first of these important health care documents. A living will is a legally-binding document that allows you to lay out your medical wishes in the event you are diagnosed with a terminal illness or experience a serious accident or injury. By creating this important planning document, you can provide as much detail as you like about your future medical treatment and end-of-life care wishes. This will lift some of the burden from your loved ones and will make it easier for them to make decisions about your care that align with your wishes.

  1. Health Care Power of Attorney

Through a health care power of attorney, you can designate an agent who has the authority to make medical decisions on your behalf in the event you are unable to do so yourself. It is almost impossible to plan for every conceivable circumstance, establishing a health care power of attorney can help accommodate for unexpected situations that arise. We want to share one cautionary note, however, about setting up a health care power of attorney. Be sure to choose someone you trust implicitly as your agent, as these types of decisions can be life and death.

  1. HIPAA Authorization

In order for your agent to gain access to your medical records as needed, he or she must have HIPAA authorization. HIPAA was created to protect your privacy when it comes to your health. Ensuring that your agent has the authority to access your records will make it easier for him or her to make medical decisions on your behalf if you become incapacitated and are unable to do so. Discuss with your estate planning attorney whether this authorization should be included as a part of your health care documents or as a stand alone document.

These are just a few of the health care documents you can add to your estate plan. Are you ready to discuss your legal planning needs and find out which documents fit best with your planning goals? Do not wait to get in touch with our office. As always, we are here to be a resource for you.

A Marriage in Your Family is Cause for Updating Your Estate Plan in the New Year

A Marriage in Your Family is Cause for Updating Your Estate Plan in the New Year

One of the most costly mistakes people can make, especially as they get older, is not having a comprehensive estate plan. For those who do have one, failing to regularly update it can be just as costly. Without a legally sound plan, there is no guarantee that your wishes will be honored and your property will go to the people you love or the organizations you support.

There is no better time to address this issue than at the start of a new year. Significant life changes or new tax laws, for example, may have occurred in the preceding calendar year or since your last update. Addressing your estate plan at the beginning of a new year offers the chance to get a jump start on the year to come.

One of the most common reasons to update an existing plan is marriage. Did you, your children or another family member named in your estate planning documents get married since your plan was created or last updated? An estate planning attorney could help you determine how that might affect your will, trust, beneficiary designations, insurance policies or other important estate documents.

Marriage changes family structure, and estate documents need to reflect those changes. For instance, if you were recently married, designating your spouse as a beneficiary to your property, or perhaps naming him or her as a personal representative to your will, would be something to handle right away. In the case of a living will, your new spouse should be made aware in writing of your health care wishes in the event you become terminally ill. A power of attorney document also could be crafted to give your spouse the ability to make decisions on your behalf relating to financial, legal and health care matters.

Estate planning is just the first part of the equation. You and your new spouse need to discuss your long-term care future. What you may not know is that when it comes to being able to afford the high cost of long-term care, you need to give your new spouse the ability to plan and work with an elder care attorney in the event of a crisis.

If the marriage is not your first, an additional set of considerations may apply. A review of previous estate documents would be required to understand how any prior arrangements would impact your plans moving forward. For instance, if you were contractually obligated through a previous divorce to keep your ex-spouse as beneficiary to a retirement account, you may not be able to update the beneficiary designation to your current spouse. Doing so could inadvertently cause a series of avoidable problems.

In any case, consulting with your estate planning attorney can provide the most efficient path to creating an overall estate plan that confidently meets your needs. We encourage you to ask us your questions. Do not wait to schedule a meeting to create the right estate plan for you now and in the new year.