The recent terrible event in Allen, Texas, has prompted several conversations with friends and family related to safety, security, and estate planning. These conversations have yielded several questions and inquiries that I have distilled into a 10-part series: Estate Planning Considerations. This series will cover topics that I hope will provide valuable guidance and at least initiate conversations in your home. Personally, I have paused to revisit my own estate and planning documents to ensure my family is protected should the unexpected happen. To begin the series, we will discuss the fundamental estate planning documents that every individual should have in place. Regardless of your age, wealth, or family situation, these essential documents will help you—that your wishes are respected, that your assets are protected, and that your loved ones are taken care of in the event of incapacity or passing.
Last Will and Testament
A Last Will and Testament, commonly known as a will, is perhaps the most well-known estate planning document. It outlines how you want your assets to be distributed upon your death. A will allows you to designate beneficiaries, specify the individuals or organizations who will receive your property, and even appoint a guardian for minor children if necessary. Without a will, your estate may be subject to intestacy laws, potentially leading to unintended consequences and disputes among family members. Creating a valid will protects you, so that that your wishes are legally recognized and can provide peace of mind for both you and your loved ones.
Durable Power of Attorney
A Durable Power of Attorney is a document that grants someone else (known as an agent or attorney-in-fact) the authority to make financial and legal decisions on your behalf if you become incapacitated or unable to manage your affairs. By appointing a trusted individual as your agent, you ensure that someone can step in and handle important matters such as paying bills, managing investments, and making financial decisions in your best interest. Without a durable power of attorney, your loved ones may face challenges and legal complexities when attempting to manage your affairs during your incapacity.
Advance Healthcare Directive
An Advance Healthcare Directive, also known as a living will, allows you to make decisions about your medical care and treatment in advance. This document comes into play if you are unable to communicate your wishes or make healthcare decisions for yourself. It allows you to specify your preferences regarding life-sustaining treatments, end-of-life care, organ donation, and more. By outlining your healthcare choices in advance, you relieve your loved ones of the burden of making difficult medical decisions on your behalf and ensure that your wishes are honored.
Medical Power of Attorney
A Medical Power of Attorney, also known as a healthcare proxy, designates a trusted individual to make medical decisions on your behalf if you are unable to do so. This person, known as your healthcare agent, will have the authority to communicate with healthcare providers, access medical records, and make healthcare decisions based on your preferences and best interests. Having a medical power of attorney ensures that you have someone you trust advocating for your healthcare needs and ensuring your wishes are respected.
In addition to a Medical Power of Attorney, it is crucial to include a HIPAA Authorization as part of your estate planning documents. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) protects the privacy of your medical information by restricting its disclosure without your consent. However, this can create challenges for your loved ones who may need access to your medical records and information during times of incapacity.
By signing a HIPAA Authorization, you give explicit permission to designated individuals, such as family members or caregivers, to access and receive your protected health information. This authorization enables them to communicate with healthcare providers, obtain medical records, and make informed decisions about your care. Without a HIPAA Authorization in place, healthcare providers may be legally prohibited from sharing vital medical information, causing delays and difficulties in managing your healthcare needs.
Including a HIPAA Authorization in your estate planning documents ensures that your loved ones have the necessary authority to access and advocate for your medical needs when you are unable to do so yourself. It promotes seamless communication among healthcare providers and family members, facilitating better coordination of care and decision-making on your behalf.
Revocable Living Trust
While not essential for everyone, a revocable living trust can be a valuable estate planning tool, especially for individuals with significant assets, complex estates, or specific objectives. A trust allows you to transfer assets into a separate legal entity to be managed and distributed according to your instructions. By creating a trust, you can avoid probate, maintain privacy, and potentially minimize estate taxes. Additionally, a trust provides flexibility, allowing you to plan for incapacity, provide for minor children or individuals with special needs, and establish guidelines for asset distribution over time.
When it comes to estate planning, it's essential to have the right documents in place to protect your interests and ensure your wishes are honored. The documents discussed in this blog—Last Will and Testament, Durable Power of Attorney, Advance Healthcare Directive, Medical Power of Attorney, HIPAA Authorization, and Revocable Living Trust Agreement—lay a solid foundation for a comprehensive estate plan.
Remember, estate planning is not a one-time task but an ongoing process. It's important to review and update your estate planning documents periodically to reflect any changes in your circumstances, such as births, deaths, marriages, or divorces. Working with an experienced estate planning attorney can provide valuable guidance and support throughout this process.
In the next blog of the Estate Planning Considerations series, we will explore the following topic: When to Establish/Review Your Estate Plan.
Contact Provident Legal Counsel today to discuss your estate plan. Schedule a Consultation or call (214) 432-6100.