01-May-2012

Written By Attorney Lori A. Curtis

Your Legal Shield benefits include Legal Shield attorneys preparing a Will, Powers of Attorney, and a Living Will (or Medical Directive) for you.  But what are they, and what do they mean to you?

A Will is simply a document that tells your loved ones who will get what and, if you have children, who you would like to be their guardian in the event of your death.

The Durable Power of Attorney is a legal document in which you grant another individual the authority to make legal decisions on your behalf in the event you are ever incapacitated and unable to make such decisions for yourself. 

A Durable Power of Attorney Health Care is similar in that you grant another individual the authority to make health care decisions on your behalf in the event you are ever incapacitated and unable to make such decisions for yourself.

These documents do NOT mean these individuals can “pull the plug”; it only means they can take care of your financial affairs and make health care decisions for you.

The document that tells your physicians and loved ones under what measures you want end of life care is called a Living Will or a Medical Directive.  This document usually tells your doctors what treatment, if any, you want if you end up with an incurable injury, disease or illness.

These documents work together and they are important for everyone to have.  I will give you an example.

My grandmother had Alzheimer’s disease.  The last year of her life, she was unable to make decisions on her own, but she could still live and go about her daily activities.  Under the Power of Attorney and Health Care Power of Attorney, my grandfather paid all the bills and had to make health care decisions for her. (She became afraid of hospitals and doctors and was sure they were going to kill her, but she was in incredible pain so my grandfather had to authorize physicians to treat her without her consent.) 

The last week of her life, she could no longer eat or drink and she became non-responsive.  She was still awake but didn’t recognize anyone and she couldn’t move on her own.  She had a Living Will (Medical Directive) that said “don’t prolong my life by artificial means”.  My grandfather put her in hospice and they were able to give her pain medications to make her comfortable, but they did not give her an IV with fluids.  If they had done that, she would have maybe lived another week, but that was all – her body was simply shutting down.  So, she was out of pain, but was able to die peacefully and not in a long, drawn-out process.

A similar situation could arise if you were in a serious a car accident or had a heart attack or stroke. We never know when we will need these documents, so it is important to have them prepared now, while you are still able.

One thing that is important to remember is that a Power of Attorney terminates at the individual’s death. Your agent will not be able to distribute any assets or access bank accounts, or other similar assets upon your death.  This is where your Will directs your personal representative to distribute your assets. However, if you have assets of over $50,000, this may need to be done through probate.

It is important to plan now for the future.  Make sure your family is protected.  Contact your Legal Shield representatives to make sure you have your Will, Powers of Attorney, and Living Wills prepared for you.