One of the important questions we ask of our clients and their families is "Do you have a Power of Attorney? An Advanced Directive? A Do Not Resuscitate Order?" If you haven't discussed these legal documents with an attorney, then you may not understand their differences and nuances. Sorting through the differences is important - very important - in allowing your loved ones to properly execute your estate plan and last wishes as you navigate the aging process and uncertainty of the future.
To help clear up any confusion, we've provided a short explanation of each document and a few links to help you learn more. Please note that our comments do not serve as legal advice and we highly encourage all seniors to visit a family attorney to ensure their best interests. We also recommend considering an attorney who specializes in estate planning and elder law, as they often have valuable insights and understanding built around their professional background.
The Will. The "Last Will and Testament" is a legal document that sets forth your wishes regarding the distribution of your assets (property, finances, pets, etc.) and any dependent loved ones (minor children and dependent adults) upon your death. The will clarifies who gets and does not get your assets, preventing court orders from distributing your assets on your behalf. The will assigns an executor to oversee proper distribution of assets in line with your wishes. You can - technically - write your own will, creating a document known as a testamentary will, but employing an estate attorney will ensure proper wording, verbiage, and compliance with state laws. There are a lot of considerations and planning required to ensure you properly prepare your will, and it will require occasional maintenance as life changes occur. To get started, here's a short article to help explain and prepare you for writing your will: https://www.investopedia.com/articles/pf/08/what-is-a-will.asp.
The Advanced Directive. These legal documents, also known as health care directives, state your wishes when you become incapacitated and unable to speak for yourself. The AD may take on one or more forms depending on your preferences. The Living Will AD is used if you become unconscious or mentally incapacitated to the point that you can no longer make your own health care decisions, and directs how you expect emergency care or end-of-life procedures to be handled. A type of physician's order that limits or precludes the use of CPR, intubation, use of a ventilator, and other life saving attempts is known as a Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) order. In some states the DNR is known or supplemented by a POLST, a similar but more in-depth physician's order to aid medical professionals in managing a patient's end-of-life wishes. You can (and should) read more about POLST here: https://polst.org/.
The Power of Attorney. POAs allow your trusted agent - usually a family member - the ability to make decisions on your behalf. POAs run on a spectrum of broad and encompassing to very specific. A medical or health care POA allows your trusted agent to access and discuss your protected health information, and to make healthcare related decisions on your behalf, such as ensuring AD orders are followed. A financial POA is an important legal document that ensures your trusted agent has authority to make financial decisions on your behalf, spanning from bill paying to selling your home. Due to the significant number of variables and events that POAs apply to, it's very important to engage with a legal expert when developing this document. This article can help explain POAs in the state of Texas: https://texaslawhelp.org/article/powers-of-attorney-information-and-answers.
Preparing for end-of-life uncertainty is stressful and scary, but with a few legal documents you can protect your estate, your finances, your family, and ensure your last wishes are carried out. Make sure your loved ones know your wishes and where to locate your key documents in the unfortunate event of your incapacitation or death. Again, we highly encourage all families to enlist the aid of a professional to help develop these important documents. Should you need assistance or referrals to elder law attorneys in the NW Houston area, please feel free to contact Seniors Helping Seniors to assist you in locating a reputable law office in your community.