The Estate Planning Documents Every Family Needs
In essence, estate planning is about control. A properly designed and implemented plan allows you—not the government, not the courts—to control how your assets are distributed after death, who can make decisions on your behalf in the event of incapacity, and more.
Let’s take a look at the key estate planning documents you need to seize and maintain control over your affairs while you are alive and after you pass away.
Medical Power of Attorney
This legal document allows you to name a person of your choosing, a person you trust, to make medical decisions on your behalf if you can no longer make these decisions on your own. This person is called your agent.
Financial Power of Attorney
Similar in concept to a Medical Power of Attorney, this document addresses your financial management. Your Financial Power of Attorney allows you to name a person you trust to make financial decisions on your behalf in the event of incapacity. This trusted individual is called your agent.
A Living Will allows you to choose, in advance, the types of medical treatments you want (or don’t want) in the event of an end-of-life situation. Living Wills are often confused with Medical Powers of Attorney. How do the two documents differ? First and foremost, a Living Will only covers circumstances in which the medical condition is deemed terminal by two doctors or where the patient has been declared to be in a persistent vegetative state.
A Medical Power of Attorney, on the other hand, provides direction for your medical care in situations in which you are unable to make decisions on your behalf. It is essential to have both a Living Will and a Medical Power of Attorney in your estate plan. By statute in Maryland, you can combine a Living Will with a Medical Power of Attorney in one document known as an Advance Medical Directive.
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) established national standards to protect the privacy of patients’ health care information by regulating the use and disclosure of “protected health information.” A HIPAA Authorization ensures your loved ones and decision makers can gain access to medical information about your condition when they need it.
Last Will and Testament
This document allows you to specify who gets your “stuff” when you pass away. Without your own Will, your assets will be distributed according to state guidelines. A Will also allows you to name guardians for your minor children. This is important because if something terrible happens to you and your spouse, the state will decide who will have legal authority over your minor children. This could very well be a person or institution you would never have chosen to have such power.
Estate Planning Help from a Seasoned Attorney
Every estate plan should include, at the very least, all of the documents we have mentioned. Of course, there are many other strategies and tools, such as trusts, that can help you increase the level of control you have over your affairs and accomplish a wide range of additional goals. To discuss your particular needs and objectives, contact us at 202-895-2799 for a personal meeting with an estate planning attorney serving the DC and Maryland area.