This is an article from the Hunter Law Office (http://hunterlawoffice.net) in Rockville, Indiana, that we thought others may find helpful.
Catastrophic events happen every single day. Consider the possibility that you are on your way home from work this evening and are involved in a terrible car accident. What if you are severely hurt and unable to pay bills, write checks, or even talk to your car insurance company about the accident? Furthermore, what if you become totally unable to communicate … or you are in a coma? What happens, who makes decisions and can Mom please just fly in with her superhero cape on already?
It does not stop there. Illnesses, terminal diagnoses, and freak accidents, oh my! (I feel it is important to note that I have gone skydiving twice and I am 2-for-2!) It is vital for anyone over the age of eighteen to have their basic documents in place—namely a Living Will, a Power of Attorney, an Appointment of Health Care Representative, and a Last Will and Testament—because upon eighteen, you’re considered an “adult.” At that point, no one is wearing a superhero cape … unless you’ve named them in an estate plan.
A Power of Attorney is an individual you appoint to make legal and/or financial decisions on your behalf. Additionally, a Power of Attorney has the power to sign your name. Your Power of Attorney would be the individual that would have the authority to step up, write checks, pay bills, and communicate on your behalf. Without a Power of Attorney in place, banks, insurance companies, and other financial institutions are not authorized to speak to anyone besides you.
A Health Care Representative is an individual you appoint to make decisions regarding your health care. This individual only makes decisions on your behalf if you are unable to do so. Your Health Care Representative would be the individual that would have the authority to openly communicate with the medical team caring for you and may be needed to make decisions on your behalf involving your care.
A Living Will is a document that allows you to make an election on whether or not you would want to receive “artificial nutrition and hydration” (ahem, a feeding tube). This would only be utilized if 1) you had an incurable disease or illness, 2) death would occur in a short time, and 3) the use of the feeding tube would only prolong your life. Here’s the deal about the Living Will—It is not binding; instead, it is merely instructional. So why do one, right? The Living Will provides guidance and confidence on what your wishes are surrounding the use of a feeding tube to the individual you have selected as your Health Care Representative.
A Last Will and Testament does two things after you die. First, it puts someone in charge to oversee your estate. That is, an “Executor” or “Personal Representative” is appointed by the Court to ensure that the wishes you have spelled out in your Will are carried out. Second, it states who gets your “stuff.” (We like to use the fancy legal word “stuff” for your estate – your bank accounts, life insurance, house, etc.) Without a Will, you may be surprised where your “stuff” goes. A married couple with children is a perfect example. Most would assume if something happens to a spouse, it would go 100% to the surviving spouse. Surprisingly, that’s not the case. If one dies without a Will, their “stuff” would be split as follows: one-half to the surviving spouse and the other one-half would go to the children of the couple (evenly if more than one child).
Take a look around—catastrophic events happen every single day and none discriminate against any particular age group. I challenge you to watch the news, listen to the radio, or even peruse your Facebook page. There will be real-life examples involving infants, teenagers, adults, and seniors.
So for all of you above the age of eighteen: What does your estate plan look like if something happens to you?