Estate Planning Documents. Everyone knows they need them, nobody wants to do them. Perhaps part of the reason people drag their feet about getting documents in place is a lack of knowledge. It’s hard to understand why advance planning is so important without also understanding what the various documents accomplish. To this end, this month’s newsletter will serve as a primer on the basic estate planning documents and help some of you foot-draggers out there (you know who you are!) gain a better understanding of what estate planning documents accomplish and why they are important.

Let’s first look at Powers of Attorney. We feel that Powers of Attorney are the most essential of the estate planning documents. If you don’t have Powers of Attorney in place and you become incapacitated, your loved ones may have to use the courts to appoint a guardian who is empowered to manage your affairs. This is a burdensome and expensive process. The two basic Power of Attorney documents are a General Durable Power of Attorney and a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care. The word “durable” is important because it indicates that the document contains language ensuring its continued validity even after you become incapacitated. You must be legally competent to execute a power of attorney and it is advisable that your signature on the documents be authenticated by a notary public. Powers of Attorney can be amended or revoked at any time, but the documents cease to become effective as soon as you die.

General Durable Power of Attorney.
A General Durable Power of Attorney, appoints an agent (also called an “attorney-in-fact”) to manage your affairs other than health care. You can give the agent very broad or very limited powers. You can also limit when the agent gets to use the powers. Depending on the circumstances, some people grant the powers right away. Others say that the powers only become effective if they should become incapacitated.

Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care
A Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care appoints an agent/attorney-in-fact to make medical decisions for you should you be unable to effectively communicate with medical staff on your own. The document also details the explicit powers that your agent possesses. This document is typically effective immediately but doctors will look to the patient for decisions whenever possible.

A Health Care Power of Attorney also typically gives the agent powers to access your medical records. In this age of very strict medical privacy laws, such access is virtually impossible without explicit authorization.

Living Will/Advance Directive
Living Will/Advance Directive/Health Care Directive…this document goes by many names, but they are all essentially the same thing. This document is a set of instructions for your doctors and your health care agent about how you want to be treated in end-of-life situations. This document should specify what types of life sustaining measures you desire (Nutrition/hydration? Both? Neither) as well as your choices about medications and pain management.

Ah yes, the Will. This is the document people are most familiar with. The will is a dormant document that does not come to life until after you have died. The will is essentially a set of instructions about how you want your money and things to be distributed after your death. It should also appoint a person to manage this distribution process. In Washington, this person is called a Personal Representative. (You may also hear this person referred to as an Executor or
Executrix.) Washington law has fairly simple, yet strictly enforced requirements for the signing and witnessing of a will. If you die without a will, this is called dying “intestate” (versus dying “testate,” or with a will), and the law lays out a familial hierarchy of how your estate will be distributed.

Obviously, there are variants and options for each of these documents as well other documents that can be used for more complicated estate planning situations. We know that the process can be intimidating, but the Elder Law Offices of Barry M. Meyers wants to demystify these documents and the entire estate planning process. If you would like more information on basic estate planning documents and concepts, we invite you to join David Neubeck at one of our free monthly
seminars. You can sign up by contacting our office at (360) 647-8846.

Barry M. Meyers
David M. Neubeck
Elder Law Offices of Barry M. Meyers

DISCLAIMER: The content of this newsletter is: for information purposes only, subject to change by government agencies, should not be relied upon as current, and, does not constitute legal advice. Reading this newsletter does not establish an attorney-client relationship.