INTRO: Can you name the two most important legal documents you absolutely must have? I'll give you a hint: a will and a trust are the wrong answers!
1. WHAT ARE THE TWO MOST IMPORTANT LEGAL DOCUMENTS WE CAN MAKE?
A. The two most important legal documents are: a financial durable power of attorney, and a health care durable power of attorney.
Wills and trusts are certainly important. But those are documents to plan for your estate at your death. The durable powers of attorney for finances and health care are designated to protect you during your lifetime.
2. LET'S START WITH THE FINANCIAL DURABLE POWER OF ATTORNEY. WHY IS THAT SO IMPORTANT?
A. This document authorizes someone you trust, usually a spouse or child, to handle your finances. The agent you name can pay your bills, sign checks, sell stocks, and generally handle your finances. If you become incapacitated, unable to handle your financial affairs, your agent under the financial durable power of attorney can easily step in to handle things for you.
3. WHAT IF YOU DON'T MAKE ONE?
A. If you become incapacitated for any reason (stroke, accident, Alzheimer's, etc.) you'll have a disaster. If you're incapacitated, you can't take money from your IRAs or 401(k), or sell your house, or sell stocks, or endorse checks coming in.
And no one else can either!
4. LET'S SWITCH TO A HEALTH CARE DURABLE POWER OF ATTORNEY. WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT?
A. With this, you can authorize someone to make health care decisions for you if you can't make your own.
Think about it, maybe you're in an auto accident, suffer a stroke, or have Alzheimer's, and you can't make your own health care decisions. Doctor's generally can't just do stuff to you – they can't give you medications or cut you open on their own.
Nor can your spouse or children tell the doctors what to do. No – you must give someone the legal authority, in writing, to make health decisions for you if three comes a time that you can't make your own decisions. That's the purpose of the health durable power of attorney.
5. WHERE CAN WE GET THESE DOCUMENTS?
A. You can get a health care durable power of attorney from the Ohio Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, www.ohpco.org
For a financial durable power of attorney, you should see an attorney. The cost is generally under $300.
CLOSE: If you haven't made financial and health care durable powers of attorney, make them. If your parents haven't given them to you, talk to them. Do it now. Without these two documents, you could find yourself facing disaster.