As you or your loved one ages, it is important to make sure legal affairs are in order. The following four documents are important to have current anytime in life, but are particularly important as a person ages:
1. Medical Directive: This document outlines medical decisions for those who are no longer able to make decisions because of illness or incapacity. It ensures that a person’s wishes are respected at the end of their life and provides clarity and guidance to their family.
2. Power of Attorney for Healthcare: Identifies a person or persons who have the power to make necessary health decisions. This document should include "HIPAA” language that allows access to medical records and the ability to discuss care with doctors.
3. A Will (or Last Will and Testament): Enforceable record of a loved one's wishes directing distribution of a person’s assets after death. The will appoints an executor (also known in many jurisdictions as a “personal representative”) who manages the distribution of the estate. (A revocable living trust might also be considered under certain circumstances, but is not always advisable, and should be discussed with legal counsel. See below.)
4. Power of Attorney for Finances: Identifies a person or persons who have the power to make necessary financial decisions. Such decisions may range from managing investments to undertaking simple tasks like depositing security checks.
When consulting with an estate planning attorney you should consider their experience dealing with elderly clients, and familiarity with elder law issues. People who practice in this area often refer themselves as Elder Law Attorneys.
In addition to the above documents, estate planning attorneys may also consider a Revocable Living Trust. The need for this is influenced by your state of residency, privacy concerns, and various other factors. It is another means of distributing an estate after death. If used, a Revocable Living Trust does not eliminate the need to have a Will. You should review with an attorney the possible advantages and disadvantages of using this tool.
Although there are many examples of these documents online, because of the complexities (including potential tax pitfalls) and substantial differences among states and jurisdictions, it is always advisable to seek guidance from a professional -- an attorney experienced in elder law and estate planning.