The Most Essential Legal Documents Everyone Should Have

This article explains why everyone should have five essential legal documents: wills; advanced directives; durable power of attorney; revocable trusts; life insurance policies.

The Most Essential Legal Documents Everyone Should Have

This is a document that tells doctors, medical professionals and family members what treatments you want if you are dying, are permanently unconscious, or if you are unable to make decisions about emergency care. It has nothing to do with age; adults of all ages can benefit from having these wishes explained. While a living will may include an exhaustive checklist on the types of treatments you would like to consider, it is difficult for a checklist to be complete or to interpret the nuances. To that end, it is vital to have a durable power of attorney for health care.

This legal document allows you to designate a health care proxy who is empowered to talk to your doctors, access your health care information, and make medical decisions about your care, if you cannot do it yourself. A health care proxy is also responsible for determining which hospital, medical facility, nursing home, or hospice facility to send you to for care. My quick answer is that you and your husband absolutely need individual wills and four other legal documents, too. I have a resource to recommend to you, that will help you do it yourself, a reputable legal aid organization that I think you can trust unreservedly.

A will is a legal document that designates who should receive your property after death. It's not just for seniors; everyone, especially those with dependent children, must have a will. This allows you to name the guardians of the dependent children. Without a Will, Courts Decide What Happens to Assets and Who Is Responsible for Children.

Your will also names your executor, the person who will supervise and protect your interests if your estate needs to go into probate. Usually, your will distributes the assets you own and appoints an executor, the person who will handle the distribution, and other matters involved, after your death. Some states recognize what is called a “holographic will” if you just want to scribble something on a napkin and declare it done. However, I don't recommend it. What a nightmare you would leave your family that could generate horrendous costs. Not having a will is even worse.

Also known as the Medical or Health Directive, it sets out what you want to happen with regard to extraordinary measures to keep you alive in case you are terminally or permanently unconscious. Your advance directive states if you need artificial support for breathing and eating, such as a ventilator and a feeding tube. The Advanced Directive (Medical) ensures that your wishes are respected at the end of life and provides clarity and guidance to family members. Your health care power of attorney intervenes if you are unable to make medical decisions yourself. Name the person you want to make those decisions on your behalf.

I highly recommend that you name up to five people in successive order to make sure there is someone there who is authorized to make these decisions for you. This document gives your designated heir(s) immediate access and control of the assets you wish to pass to them in the event of death, without the need to transfer ownership. You don't have to be rich or have vast assets to benefit greatly from a revocable or family trust. A life insurance policy, checking account, home or any asset of value that deserves to establish a revocable trust. In this document, by which they will probably appoint themselves Trustee(s), they will also appoint the Trustee following his death.

There are other important advantages of this type of trust. On the one hand, unlike a will that becomes a matter of public record, a trust is private. You may have a problem in your family that you don't want to disclose to the general public. Without a trust, an estate must go through legalization, a long and costly process in which the court manages the distribution of the estate (its assets). And if the estate has properties in several states, it will have to go through probate in each state. Having all your assets in a trust prevents probate legalization.

This document also does other things, but this may be the most important. Then, in the privacy of your own home, you can customize the five documents mentioned above before tomorrow morning or at your own pace. You can trust that those documents are properly prepared, completely legal, and simple for those you designate to be in charge of your finances, health and possessions when the time comes. The forms can be used several times so that other adults in your household can also create their legal documents. Nolo offers this simple Willmaker for Louisiana residents that has been prepared and vetted by a team of lawyers.

If you live in Louisiana and also want to create your durable power of attorney and healthcare directive, consult a Louisiana attorney for help. My suggestion is that you go to Quicken Canada to find similar resources for Canada. Decades ago I went to a seminar on this topic. What I remember most is the statement that “EVERYONE ALREADY HAS A WILL. IT'S YOUR DECISION IF YOU WRITE IT YOURSELF OR IF YOU FOLLOW YOUR STATE'S DECISIONS. Let's start today by talking about what I think is the most essential legal document everyone should have: a durable power of attorney.

It's durable because once you sign it, it survives your disability. So even if you get sick later and can't make your own financial decisions, the people you designate under the power of attorney (POA) will be able to put themselves in your shoes and make those decisions for you. For example, if the stock market goes down and it is appropriate to buy or sell shares,...

Duane Meno
Duane Meno

Amateur zombie geek. Avid coffee aficionado. Proud web trailblazer. Unapologetic food guru. Incurable pop culture evangelist.

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