It’s fun to make a bucket list of all the exciting things you want to accomplish before you die. Personally, I want to travel overseas.
You also need to have a legal bucket list of documents that must be signed now — before life’s inevitable curveballs come your way.
What You Need
Everyone should have the following Core Four documents in place before a health crisis happens: a Last Will and Testament, Financial Durable Power of Attorney, Health Care Power of Attorney and Living Will Declaration. Let’s review each of those documents.
A will is a written document formally signed in which you describe how your assets should be distributed at death and who will be in charge of your estate. Your will directs what happens with your probate assets, which are assets in your sole name alone. A will simplifies the probate process and gives authority to the executor to handle legal issues. Without a will, the probate process is more complicated and costly.
Most people want to avoid probate. Solely owned assets have to be probated because there is no beneficiary connected to the asset. For example, if your assets listed as joint and survivorship, Payable on Death or Transfer on Death are in a Trust Agreement or name a beneficiary, your assets won’t have to go through probate and will go the people named to receive them. If assets are titled correctly to avoid probate, then you don’t have to use a will, but it’s still a good idea to have a will just in case of a snag.
The Financial Durable Power of Attorney is vital because it names the person who will oversee your financial matters if you become mentally or physically unable to take care of them yourself. Many people think that spouses don’t need to have these for each other because they are married, but that is not true. Spouses can’t just automatically sign for each other. A Power of Attorney is needed to sign off on real estate, retirement accounts and securities. When naming someone, be sure that you trust the person 125 percent because they will have the authority to spend or transfer your assets.
The Health Care Power of Attorney and Living Will are companion documents that ensure someone carries out your health care wishes, from simple choices to end-of-life decisions when you are no longer competent to do it yourself.
The Health Care Power of Attorney allows you to name a trusted person to deal with doctors and medical providers. Just like for the Financial Durable Power of Attorney, spouses need to name each other or other family members, or risk not being able to dictate medical decisions.
The Living Will Declaration is a written declaration of your wishes regarding end-of-life decisions. If you don’t want to be kept alive if you are permanently unconscious or terminally ill, you need to state that in writing. Then, if you are no longer able to express this wish, the Living Will Declaration can do it for you.
Make sure your legal bucket list is complete. These Core Four documents are important. Get the advice of an attorney to prepare and execute these documents. Then, start on your own personal bucket list knowing your legal affairs are in order.
Laurie G. Steiner is a member of the law firm of Solomon, Steiner & Peck, Ltd. She is a Certified Elder Law Attorney by the National Elder Law Foundation and the Ohio State Bar Association and an accredited attorney for the preparation, presentation and prosecution of claims for veteran’s benefits before the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). She practices in the areas of Elder Law, Medicaid, VA and Disability Planning, and Estate and Trust Planning and Administration.