By Myka Landry
A comprehensive estate plan includes more than just a will or a trust. To make sure you are protected upon your death or incapacity, you’ll also need powers of attorney, a living will and authorization to release protected health information.
To help you understand the importance of each of these documents, I’ll briefly describe each document and what it is used for.
A will or revocable trust. Generally speaking, a will and a revocable trust accomplish the same purpose. They outline how your property will be distributed upon your death. To work properly, your will or trust should also be coordinated with any joint tenancy property, beneficiary designations or accounts that are paid upon your death.
General durable (financial) power of attorney.With this power of attorney, you are appointing someone to handle your financial affairs while you are alive if you are either unable to handle these affairs yourself or don’t want to. This power of attorney should be fairly detailed to make sure that the person you appoint does, in fact, have the power to do what you they need to do.
Medical durable (health care) power of attorney. This document gives your appointee the right to make medical decisions for you in the event that you become incapacitated. It can include detailed instructions as to what type of treatment you want and in what circumstances.
Living will (end-of-life declaration). This document states your wishes for life-sustaining treatment and artificial nutrition and hydration in the event you are terminal, as defined by law, or in a persistent vegetative state. This document takes effect if you are in one of those two conditions. It does not state your wishes with respect to treatment under any other conditions.
HIPAA release.This document lists those persons who can speak with your doctors and other health-care professionals regarding your medical conditions. It does not give these people the right to make medical decisions for you. This document will probably include more people than your powers of attorney because you may want people to have access to your medical information even if they are not decision makers.
There are other documents that can be included in estate plans. However, I consider these five the minimum that you need to make sure your wishes are fulfilled in the case of incapacity or death. Without these documents in place, a court will be asked to name someone to make these decisions for you. That person may not be the person YOU would choose.
This is a general outline for estate planning purposes. For a comprehensive plan, it is best to seek advice from a qualified estate planning attorney.