by Lori A. Curtis

 Finally!  You just finalized your estate planning documents and you have your will, your powers of attorney, your living will (medical directive) and maybe a trust.  So, now what?  When do those powers of attorney kick in?  When does the medical directive kick in and how do your documents work together?

The best way to explain your estate documents is to give you an example: Let’s say Jane comes down with Alzheimer’s disease.  Towards the end, she is unable to make decisions on her own, but she can still live and go about her daily activities.  Under the Durable Power of Attorney and Health Care Power of Attorney, her husband Joe pays all the bills and makes her health care decisions for her.  

Because of the disease, Jane becomes afraid of hospitals and doctors and she is sure they are going to kill her, but she comes down with incredible pain in her stomach.  Her husband, as her power of attorney, can authorize the doctors to treat her.  If they have a Trust, he is also able to buy and sell property, take out funds out of a bank account, etc.  He can act on her behalf and manage the funds for her benefit.  Jane does not have to worry about it, because he can take care of everything for her.

After a while, Jane’s health starts to decline.  She gets to the point she can no longer eat or drink and she becomes non-responsive.  She is still awake but doesn’t recognize anyone and she can’t move on her own.  Jane has a Living Will that instructs her doctors and her health care power of attorney not to prolong her life by artificial means.

Joe, after deciding Jane has already told him she does not want to live this way, puts her in hospice.  They are able to give her pain medications to make her comfortable, but they there are no heroic measures to keep her alive.  Anything they do at that point will simply prolong the dying process.  At this point, her body is shutting down.  In hospice, she is out of pain but she is able to die peacefully – and not in a long, drawn-out process.

Something similar could happen if you were in a car accident.  You may be unconscious and unable to tell the doctors what you want. At that point, your health care power of attorney can talk to the physicians and discuss treatment options, and make an informed decision on your behalf. And, if you were unconscious for a long period of time, for instance, in a medically-induced coma to allow your body to heal, your financial power of attorney, or your successor trustee of your trust would be able to pay all your bills for you.  And, once you came out of it, you are able step in and start making all your own decisions again.

Compare the same instance to Mary, who does not have any estate planning documents.  She is unmarried and has three adult children, and she knows they will take care of her.  However, when she comes down with dementia, she does not have any estate planning documents.  In order to make decisions on her behalf, her children have to file a guardian/conservatorship action in Superior Court.  They do not agree on the treatment she should have or who should be in charge of her money.  They all spend a lot of attorney’s fees fighting each other.  The Court appoints an attorney to represent Mary – but she does not have the ability to be involved in the process and cannot tell the court or the attorney what she wants.  Additionally, her estate is responsible for paying her attorneys’ fees.  In the end, the judge may appoint a guardian and conservator for Mary that she would not have chosen for herself.

Not having any assets does not mean you do not need any estate planning documents.  Everyone over the age of 18 should have at a minimum, a will, powers of attorney, and a medical directive telling your health care power of attorney what medical care you want or do not want.  Call Legal Shield today and get the process started.  Your life depends on it.