Every adult needs an advance directive, a power of attorney and a will to ensure that his or her wishes are honored and affairs are handled in case of incapacitation or death. Most senior living facilities, including assisted living, independent living, and memory care facilities, require residents to submit advanced directives and powers of attorney.
Below, we’ll look at the provisions in advance directives and the most common forms of estate planning. Each state has different laws and regulations governing these documents, so you’ll want to conduct an internet search by state to view and download your state’s forms.
An “advance directive” describes your medical choices if you are no longer able to make them for yourself. California’s form includes a health power of attorney, which designates someone to make health decisions and an optional privacy waiver to allow your agent to accept and/or release medical records on your behalf in accordance with the provisions you select. It also includes instructions for end of life health care—whether or not to prolong life or use extraordinary measures. There’s a section to describe your organ donor decision. You can also list a primary physician and add additional instructions.
Powers of Attorney (POAs)
California has multiple POAs, the most common include:
Durable – Grants an agent the power to handle all financial affairs for someone until it is withdrawn.
General – Grants the same power but is withdrawn when the person the agent represents becomes incapacitated.
Limited – Spells out under what circumstances the agent can handle a person’s affairs.
Medical – Used as a short-term measure when someone is critically ill or undergoes serious surgery.
Tax – Allows an agent to file taxes.
Vehicle – Allows an agent to transfer ownership of a car.
Estate Planning—Wills and Trusts
A will is a document that assigns your property to others after you die. For most of us, creating a will is an easy process as we have so few assets: a home, life insurance policies, bank accounts and some personal property. State regulations vary, but if your will is simple, you can create it online, print it and have it witnessed and/or notarized per your state’s requirements.
If you have a complicated financial situation—businesses, hedge funds, etc., you probably already have or are thinking about a trust. When you set up a trust, you move holdings (property, money, etc.) into the trust, and the ownership of those items pass to the trust. Your trustee, most likely you, makes all decisions relating to the trust.
When you die, your assigned alternate trustee takes over. Everything in the trust bypasses probate court (saving attorney fees and court costs), and your heirs take possession immediately upon your death per the instructions in the trust. Often, people have a will and a trust, so it’s important to talk with your financial planner about your best course of action.
All of these documents must be witnessed and/or notarized, depending on your state’s requirements. Everyone involved should receive a copy, and you’re free to distribute copies to family members, and others. It’s a good idea to scan the original documents and keep a copy off-site somewhere other than a safe deposit box, which may not be accessible when you need to get into it.
We’ve all heard horror stories from friends about their loved ones who didn’t have an advance directive, power of attorney or will. Today, they’re easy and inexpensive to complete. You don’t have to use an attorney. I found out at the last minute that my father needed a power of attorney, and fortunately, I found LegalZoom. The process was quick and easy. Why not take the time right now while you’re thinking about it to protect yourself and your loved ones?