Most Important Legal Documents

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! 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.

The first document, the financial durable power of attorney, 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. If you become incapacitated for any reason (stroke, accident, Alzheimer's, etc.) and DON'T have a financial durable power of attorney, 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! The result would be that your spouse or child would have to request to become your guardian through the county Probate Court. This process is costly, time consuming and you have to hire an attorney. It is going through Probate while you are still alive! Most people try to avoid that at death, so why would someone want that during life?

The other document is the health care durable power of attorney. With this document, 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 treat you or perform medical procedures on 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 there comes a time that you can't make your own decisions. That's the purpose of the health durable power of attorney. Without such a document, if you become incapacitated, a guardianship would have to be established, as discussed previously. 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.

If you haven't made financial and health care durable powers of attorney, make them. Do it now. Without these two documents, you could find yourself facing disaster.