Atlanta Financial Blog

What is a Living Will & Power of Attorney?

What is a Living Will & Power of Attorney?

Michelle T. Thompson, Esq., CFP®, CTFA, CDFA®
May 28, 2019

What is a living will and a power of attorney? And why do you need these documents? It is important to have a plan in place in case of an emergency or a medical situation where you are unable to make decisions about your medical treatment and financial affairs. If you do not have a plan in place, others will have to make these decisions for you, which may or may not coincide with your wishes. These difficult decisions are often left to family members, which can be gut-wrenching and stressful for them. To make sure your wishes are met, a living will and a power of attorney are important documents to have in place ahead of time.

Living Will (Advance Health Care Directive)

A living will, or Advance Health Care Directive as it is referred to in the state of Georgia, is a written statement that spells out your medical choices in the event that you are unable to convey your wishes for treatment. It is important to remember that this directive only applies at an end-of-life situation (such as a terminal illness), or in the event that you are in a vegetative state with no hope for recovery. I think most of us remember the case of Terri Schiavo in the 1990s. Terri suffered cardiac arrest in 1990, which left her in a vegetative state unable to respond. Because she did not have a directive in place, she remained in this state for half of her life, even though every doctor who examined her believed she would never recover. Her husband sought permission to remove her feeding tube to end her life in 1995, but was not able to do so until 2005. The court battles that took place over a ten year period remind us of how important it is to have a plan in place for these types of situations.

What is included in a living will (health care directive)? The Advance Health Care directive spells out your medical choices and provides instructions for health care providers about the types of health care you wish to receive or not receive. It spells out your wishes for such topics as resuscitation, end-of-life treatments, palliative care, and burial.

How do I start planning a living will and what do I do with it? It is a good idea to discuss your wishes with your health care providers, and provide a copy of the directive to them. Also, the person you name as your agent should be notified ahead of time. If you have an existing health care directive, make sure that it is up to date. You will also want to make sure that it has been updated if you have recently moved to another state, as state requirements differ. The directive should be stored in a safe place where it can be easily found by your family members if an emergency arises.

Power of Attorney

When you create a living will or advance health care directive, it is a good idea to create a power of attorney. The power of attorney is a written statement that allows the person you name as your agent to conduct your financial affairs in the event you become incapacitated. This document spells out exactly which powers you wish to give to your agent. In the event that you become incapacitated, your agent will use their designated powers to handle your money and property.

Things to remember when creating a power of attorney:

• The power of attorney may become effective as soon as it is signed, witnessed, and notarized;

• Choose someone you have complete trust in to serve as your agent. If you name a dishonest or unscrupulous person as your agent, they could technically steal your money and property;

• Keep the documents in a safe and secure place to prevent unauthorized use; and,

• Give your agent a copy of the documents so they will be able to use their powers if you become incapacitated.

If you have questions about these parts of your estate plan, or any other questions about your financial situation, we stand ready to help. Contact me at 678-282-0296 to arrange a complimentary consultation.

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