Agency Suite: The seven documents, their functions, and counseling
1. Affidavit of Family Tree
This document confirms that you are who you say you are, and saves your executor lots of time and money by identifying under oath all the people who might have a claim to your estate.
What you need: The names, maiden names, dates of birth, death, marriage, and divorce, of your parents, you, your siblings, spouse, children, and siblings’ children.
2. Health Care Proxy
By naming one primary agent and one successor agent to make health care decisions on your behalf should you become unable to do so, this document enables you to ensure that your wishes are carried out. It is important to notify those people that they have been appointed your agent, and to tell them clearly what you want, or at the very least, the kinds of values that should guide their decision-making. This document will be backed up by the Living Will. This document kicks in if you are unable to communicate, or lack capacity to make decisions. Once you have lost capacity you cannot execute this (or any other) document. Having a valid health care proxy will not only ensure that your wishes are followed, it could prevent a lot of stress, trauma, and potentially extended litigation for the people who care about you.
What you need: The names and phone numbers of two people who are geographically close, who will make health care decisions if you become unable to express your desires.
*No Attorney or Notary Necessary; Two uninterested Witnesses*
3. The Living Will A living will explains in legally effective writing what you do and do not want in terms of extraordinary care at the end of your life. This document requires that you consider your feelings about the outer limits of your quality of life. There are no wrong answers: as with each of these documents and decisions, this is all up to you.
*Requires witnesses and notary; attorney advisable but not necessary*
4. HIPAA This is a document that enables you to grant permission for doctors to speak to people and share your medical records with them. Generally the people named in a HIPAA are your health care proxies and anyone else who should be aware of your health status, if you are unable to tell them yourself. Usually people name parents, siblings, and partners. There are often more people named on a HIPAA than on a health care proxy, but it is by no means necessary to include more people.
What you need: The names and addresses of your primary and successor health care proxy, and anyone else you want to be able to speak to your doctors.
*does not require attorney or notary*
5. Springing Power of Attorney
This enables you to appoint one person to take care of your finances should you become unable to do so. It becomes effective only upon your loss of capacity. This
document ensures that the state does not take over the management of your finances, should you lose capacity. It helps you to maintain control over the quality of your life, and ensures not only that your assets are spent on you, but are spent in the ways you actually want.
What you need: The names and addresses of two extremely trustworthy people, who are financially and psychologically stable, and have no substance abuse issues or other kinds of compulsive behaviors.
*Attorney and witnesses*
6. Statutory Gifts Rider Addendum to the power of attorney; it enumerates more (but still limited) powers that you can confer upon the agent named as your power of attorney. This allows your named agent to use your assets on other people, often as a means of Medicaid and Medicare planning. It is advisable to execute a statutory gifts rider; it is likewise advisable to advise your named agents to consult with a qualified elder law attorney before invoking its powers.
*Attorney, witnesses, and notary*
7. Last Will and Testament This document outlines the ways in which you wish to have your wealth distributed upon your passing.
What you need: Think about your financial assets as one whole, to be divided into percentage shares and bequeathed to various people or organizations. Think about special items that you want to give to certain individuals. Also identify two people by name and address to be the primary and successor executor of your estate, and two people to be primary and successor trustee of any trust you establish under the will. If you have children, identify at least two people to be the primary and successor guardians of your children.
*Attorney and witnesses*
8. Counseling I will advise you on health care and financial planning that will enable you to avoid state involvement in your health and finance decisions.
The most important thing you can do is to go to your bank and have your spouse (or whomever) named as the beneficiary to all of your accounts. This is crucial, and extremely simple. This allows your bank accounts to avoid probate, automatically passing by operation of law to the beneficiary. This is important because it is difficult to be struggling to find money to pay for a funeral while you are also grieving. Even a very modest funeral, even the most modest cremation, is a significant expense. It is a true kindness to your loved ones to leave them immediately accessible funds that are sufficient to cover funeral expenses.