Recently, the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys made a list of the most important legal documents that every American should have. While every person’s situation is unique, there are certain documents that are important for everyone, regardless of your situation or life circumstances.
1) General durable power of attorney. This is a document in which you can appoint an agent to make financial decisions on your behalf should you ever become incapacitated and unable to make those decisions on your own. A properly drafted power of attorney gives an agent the power to do almost anything that you would be able to do on your own with regard to finances, including selling real estate and managing your bank accounts.
2) Health care power of attorney. This document allows you to appoint an agent to make health care decisions on your behalf should you become unable to make them on your own. If you end up needing hospital care or long-term care, your agent can work with doctors and other medical professionals to make health care decisions in accordance with your wishes.
3) Advance medical directive. Commonly known as a “living will,” this document gives you an opportunity to state your wishes with regard to end-of-life care. In this document, you can state whether you would wish to have life-prolonging procedures implemented if you ever were to be in a persistent vegetative state with no hope of recovery.
4) Last Will and Testament. This is perhaps the most well-known estate planning document. Unlike all of the other documents in the list, a will deals only with what happens after you have passed away. This document gives you a chance to state what you would like to be done with your possessions and your assets after your death. In a will, you can allocate your assets to your spouse, your children, grandchildren, or other relatives, friends, or charities that may be important to you.
Of course, these are not the only estate planning documents out there – they are only the most basic estate planning tools that everyone over the age of eighteen should execute.
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