Everyone should have their own estate plan documents.  These include a Last Will and Testament, Health Care Proxy, Durable Power of Attorney, Living Will and HIPAA Authorization.

In a Will you nominate the Personal Representative who will manage your estate.  The Personal Representative’s job includes paying estate bills, settling any legal matters and distributing your assets as you directed in your Will. 

In a Will, a parent can also nominate a Guardian to care for and raise her minor children if something happens to her.  A person is not considered an adult until age 18 in Massachusetts.  You can also leave assets in trust for your children until they reach a specified age.  The Trustee manages the child’s inheritance, with the ability to use the funds for the child as needed.  When the child reaches the specified age, the trust ends and the Trustee distributes the funds to the child outright.          

In your Health Care Proxy, you designate a Health Care Agent to make medical decisions for you if you are unable to communicate with your physician yourself.

In your Durable Power of Attorney, you designate an Agent with authority to act on your behalf, typically for financial matters such as going to the bank, managing or selling real estate, or engaging in other financial activities.  A “durable” power of attorney continues in effect if you become incapacitated.

A person cannot execute a Power of Attorney, Health Care Proxy, or other legal document if he or she is mentally incompetent.  This is why planning ahead is important.  If a person becomes incompetent, and has not previously signed the above documents when healthy, it may be necessary to file a court proceeding to have a Guardian or Conservator appointed.  This is much more costly, public, time consuming, and inconvenient.

Finally, a Living Will expresses your desire (if you so choose) to decline life-prolonging medical procedures such as a respirator if your medical condition becomes irreversible and terminal.  You choose only procedures needed to provide comfort or alleviate pain.  A HIPAA Authorization, named after the federal law, authorizes named individuals to have access to your medical records if needed.

Beauregard, Burke & Franco has years of experience in advising clients on all estate planning needs and can help guide you through the complexities involved with these documents.

by Richard Burke, Esq.