One of the most common answers given by those who don’t have a will is that it reminds them of a topic they don’t want to think about – their inevitable death. But estate planning involves more than a will and, properly done, it can have many benefits during their lifetime.
If you only use a will for estate planning, then that likely does limit what your plan can do for you until after your death. But effective estate planning can use so many other techniques that, instead of viewing it as an end-of-life issue, it can even be life saving.
Even for someone with modest assets, an estate plan should include directives to their family and medical professionals. Powers of attorney, living wills and HIPAA releases should all be readily available when needed. If you are even temporarily incapacitated by illness, someone will need to be in charge of making legal and medical decisions for you. These documents can help accomplish this according to your wishes if you make them known before the occasion arises.
Powers of attorney can be created for general purposes or with very specific limitations. You can give someone total control over all of your affairs while you are unable to attend to them, or you can only authorize them to handle certain things. The latter might apply to a business partner, giving him or her the ability to sign your name to legal documents to avoid an interruption in business. Powers of attorney can also be restricted to a certain time period or set of circumstances, or can be “durable” meaning they continue indefinitely. Or a health care power of attorney may only be used to make medical decisions on your behalf.
Most people have heard of living wills. They differ from a health care power of attorney in that a living will addresses only “end-of-life” decisions, such as keeping you alive artificially with machines rather than letting you die naturally.
And finally, you should have a HIPAA release, which gives someone the ability to access medical information. Under the HIPAA privacy laws, even a spouse may not be privy to certain information unless a HIPAA release giving those instructions has been signed.
As you can see, all of the documents listed have more to do with your life than what happens after it. Each should be a part of any estate plan. Your choices about which ones to use and how they should be drafted should be part of your discussion with an estate planning attorney.