There comes a point in every person's life when it is time to sit back and take stock of what you have accomplished. This could be a beautiful family, a lovely home or a thriving business. Whatever the source of your pride, it makes sense to protect it, just like you would any other asset. You protect your home and your business with insurance, but what about yourself and your family?
Protecting yourself and your family doesn't have to be difficult or expensive. But it does need to be done. Here are the three must have documents everybody should have to protect themselves and their families:
1. Last Will & Testament
You probably know what this document is. It disposes of your assets after your death. Without a Will, your state of residence determines how your assets should be divided. But can you really depend on some ambiguous state laws to protect your family? Wouldn't it be better to lay everything out in such a way that ensures your wishes are followed? This is what a Will does for you.
What many people don't know about Wills is that a Will is where you name the guardian for your minor children. Don't have a Will? Now the state gets to pick a guardian for your kids. Do you trust the state to pick the best possible person to raise your children? I don't know many people who would.
Your Will also names the Personal Representative of your estate. This is the person responsible for administering your estate by paying your final taxes, paying any creditors and collecting and distributing your property. Once again, without a Will, the state will pick your Personal Representative too.
Because your Will handles some of the most important decisions of your life, it is the number one on my must have documents list. Forcing your heirs to have to look to the state to sort out these important decisions is costly, time consuming, and totally unnecessary. And, since over half of all Americans don't have Wills, the process will likely get even worse. Save your family the burden of having to sort through all of these issues and write your Will.
2. Healthcare Power of Attorney
You've probably heard of this document too. A Healthcare Power of Attorney designates an agent (someone you pick) to make your healthcare decisions should you not be able to do so yourself. Without a Healthcare Power of Attorney, your friends and family members will have to go to court and get a court order authorizing someone to make your healthcare decisions. It could end up being your parents who you haven't spoken to in years, or your sibling who makes terrible decisions. Healthcare decisions are among some of the most personal decisions anyone can make. Wouldn't you want someone you know and trust making those decisions for you?
A Healthcare Power of Attorney should contain language waiving healthcare privacy laws (HIPAA) so that your healthcare agent can get a full understanding of your condition before making any healthcare decisions. A HIPAA waiver can be contained in your Healthcare Power of Attorney, or it can be a separate, stand alone document. Without a HIPAA waiver, doctors and hospitals may not disclose your healthcare information. Again, without a HIPAA waiver, your loved ones will end up back in court, fighting over what they think is right for you. Wouldn't you rather make those decisions?
3. A Durable Power of Attorney
In our office, we like to call a Durable Power of Attorney a Financial Power of Attorney. This document authorizes an agent that you choose to make financial decisions for you if you are incapacitated. Can you imagine what would happen if you were incapacitated? Could anyone access your bank account to pay your medical bills? What about your mortgage and utility payments? How about buying groceries for your kids? What about your business? An agent under a Financial Power of Attorney can do those things for you. This is why a Financial Power of Attorney is one of my top three most important documents you must have. Your agent can keep your life running smoothly when you can't do so yourself.
Creating this document can be critical. You may only be unconscious temporarily, perhaps because of a post-surgery complication, but what about everything that was happening in your life? Your agent can close that house you were selling, deal with a credit card company, or keep your business operating smoothly. The time and effort to create a Financial Power of Attorney is minimal, but the potential payoff is enormous.