Many clients come to our firm because they need assistance in helping a loved one who has become disabled or incapacitated. Often it is necessary to go through a court process to appoint an agent to help a disabled individual. Three estate planning documents can be invaluable in allowing you to have control over your financial and medical decision-making.
A power of attorney is an instrument in which you designate another person (your “attorney-in- fact”) to act on your behalf. It ensures continuity of your affairs. The instrument is not subject to court approval or rejection and can only be challenged under limited circumstances. You can give your agent unlimited power to act, or you can restrict the representation to certain limited areas.
The power of attorney can be effective immediately upon its execution, or it can be triggered by an event such as incapacity. A financial power of attorney is “durable” in the sense that it survives disability. If you become unable to manage your own financial affairs, your agent can use this instrument to pay your bills, and manage investments.
However, a power of attorney involves a high degree of trust between you and your agent. You must ensure that the person acting on your behalf knows your wishes and is ready to carry them out. You must also be certain that the agent will not abuse the position, since he or she will have control over your property and assets.
Similar to a financial power of attorney is the durable health care power of attorney, although it is not an asset-management tool. This instrument directs another person to make health care decisions for you if you cannot. A health care power of attorney gives your agent the power to make a decision to discontinue life-sustaining measures, including feeding and hydration. Your agent will communicate your wishes to your doctors.
Finally, a living will makes your wishes known regarding your last illness. A living will states your desires regarding life-sustaining measures or heroic efforts at resuscitation that would prolong your life in a vegetative state. It allows you to make a decision in advance about the level of medical attention you want. It involves the highest degree of trust between you and your designated agent.
These three documents can prevent expensive and time-consuming court action if you become incapacitated. They are essential estate planning documents.
Information provided by Ross Barnett, attorney for Abendroth and Russell Law Firm, 2560 73rd St., Urbandale, 278-0623, www.ARPCLaw.com.