End-of-Life Documents: What Are They and Do I Need Them?

I recently read an article by Jean Cherni in the New Haven Register, which discussed the need for end-of-life planning family shadowdocuments. And just what are these documents and why do you need them? Here’s a summary:

No. 1: Durable power of attorney. This appoints another person to transact business, legal and financial matters for you until you die.

Why do you need it? Lets say you are incapacitated by an accident or illness, it allows the person you’ve chosen to act for you—and quickly. That can help you avoid a lot of problems, including hard-to-get guardianship and conservatorship rights. (If you are unsure of what either of these two terms means, this article makes it clear.)

No. 2: Appoint a health-care representative. As with the first document, this allows someone to act on your behalf to make health-care decisions if you’re unable. It allows them to do such things as review health records, authorize admission to or discharge from a hospital and make decisions about life-sustaining medical procedures.

Why do you need it? You’ll have peace of mind knowing that your wishes will be fulfilled as you intended, especially when it comes to life-sustaining medical procedures. It also helps avoid family arguments about who should have the final say.

No. 3: Advance care directives or living will. This puts in writing the decisions you have made about your health care—instructions, if you will, for your doctor—so that your wishes are followed if you are unable to articulate them.

Why do you need it? It ensures, for example, that you receive the treatment you’ve decided on beforehand if you are terminally ill or permanently unconscious.

It helps to ensure that the treatments you will receive in a terminal or permanently unconscious situation are in concert with your wishes and provides guidance to your health-care representative.

No. 4: A will or revocable living trust. This puts in writing who will inherit your assets when you die, and in what manner. These two documents can help eliminate, avoid or postpose taxes that are payable when you die. An attorney can help you decide which of these documents is better for you.

Why do you need these? If you do not have a will or a revocable living trust, basically the government will be able to decide how and to whom your assets are distributed, and it may not be to those you intended.

These legal documents require the guidance of a qualified legal advisor to insure they meet the requirements of your state of residency, and if you already have these but have moved to a new state, they should be reviewed to insure they comply with the laws of your state.

by Marvin H. Feldman

Marvin H. Feldman, CLU, ChFC, RFC, is president of the Feldman Financial Group in Palm Harbor, Fla., and president and CEO of Life Happens. He is a 41-year Million Dollar Round Table member and was the 2002 president. He is a 33-year member of the MDRT Top of the Table and a past Top of the Table chairman. He also is the recipient of the 2011 John Newton Russell award, the highest honor bestowed on an individual by the insurance industry.

    1. Deb: These are personal documents that you would create, often with the help of legal council or a lawyer.

    2. In California DURABLE power of attorney extends beyond death. Simple power of attorney ends at death. Licensed Funeral Director in California for 40 years

  1. The LastingMatters Organizer is an easy-to-use, comprehensive guide to help any adult, at any age, compile, organize and document personal information, intentions and wishes. While conversations about end-of-life and planning for the inevitable are difficult, making a plan is not. http://www.LastingMatters.com

  2. The people that need all this paperwork the most are the people that can’t usually afford to go to a lawyer. Not that many years ago, a little more than ten years ago I was able to get everything I needed off the Internet as writable files for free. As the original article states “medicare/medicaid spends massive amounts of money on” the above stated group of people simply because they are not able or perhaps even capable of understanding thus filling out the necessary end-of-life documents. Why not include this paperwork out when applying for food stamps, disability or even unemployment payments. Included could also be a yearly, bi-yearly or even five year update on so stated documents. The government has always loved paperwork…why not add a bit more that in the long run could save this country billions of dollars on end-of-life medical care?

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