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What are “Life Docs” and why do I need them?

Your “life docs” are the non-will or living trust documents in your estate plan.  They include:

  • Durable Power of Attorney – This document appoints someone to handle your financial affairs, either effective immediately or upon your disability or incapacitation, often referred to as a “springing” DPOA.  Besides your primary agent (may also be referred to as your “attorney-in-fact”), you can also name one or more alternatives to serve as your fiduciary.  Every person over the age of 18 should have a durable POA, even if it just names one or both parents.  Without it, the parents will need to petition the courts to allow them to pay the bills and otherwise handle the financial affairs of a child who is injured or incapacitated.  With it, a parent can sign checks, deal with the bank, and otherwise act on behalf of the child until such time as they recover and can go back to taking care of themselves.  A DPOA can be general, meaning it applies to everything, or limited, with specific things that the agent it authorized to do.  For example, if you were trying to sell your car but had to go out of town for a while, you could use a limited POA to authorize someone else to sell your vehicle for you while you are gone.  If there are co-agents named, the document should specify whether they must act together or can act separately.
  • Health Care Power of Attorney – This document is may also be referred to as a proxy directive, health care proxy, health care surrogate, or durable power of attorney for health care.  It appoints your primary (and two or more alternates) health care representative, who is the person your doctors will be asking the tough questions regarding your care when you are unable to answer for yourself.  It is important that you discuss your decisions with your health care representative(s) and provide them with copies of this document so they are not surprised to be informed that they have to make life and death decisions on your behalf.  You should also make sure that they do not have any religious beliefs that might prevent them from carrying out your wishes.
  • Advance Directive for Health Care – This document is often called a “living will” or instruction directive, and it provides instructions to your loved ones and your medical team regarding your end of life care.  It is designed to be submitted to your health care providers by your health care representative (who you appoint using a Health Care Power of Attorney) once you have started the dying process, are in a persistent vegetative state, irreversible coma, or similar condition.  Yes, it is all very depressing stuff to think about, but putting forth your wishes in writing may save your loved ones an enormous amount of emotional pain.  Avoid having the courts involved in your end-of-life decisions, as they (and Congress and the President) were in the case of Terri Schiavo.  A comprehensive living will can provide a lot of guidance, including information on what organs/body parts you want to donate, reference to your religious beliefs, when to withhold fluids, nutrition, and CPR, and, basically, when to pull your plug.
  • Funeral or Cremation Instructions – More fun things for you to ponder–Buried or cremated? Where? Have you picked out a burial plot? Paid for it? Want your ashes spread certain places or given to certain people? Pallbearers? Music to be played? Verses read by certain people? Make life easier for your loved ones after yours has ended by leaving them a document with all the information you consider to be relevant and important.

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Backes & Hill, LLP serves clients throughout Mercer County and the surrounding area, including into Pennsylvania and New York. From its office in Lawrenceville, the firm represents clients in a variety of practice areas, including personal injury, employment law, and estate planning. Call 609-396-8257 or contact us online to schedule a meeting. 

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