Imagine experiencing an accident that leaves you unable to communicate last wishes for your health, your possessions or even your children. While there are a multitude of documents available to curtail the problems, many fail to consider completing them until later in life—when it may be too late. The reality is people of all ages need to have at least one of the following papers on hand: a last will, a living will or a living trust, according to local attorneys. But how do you know which is best for you?
First, local experts say it is important to become educated on the differences among the forms to determine what will apply to you and your family. Online document service Legalzoom provides the following definitions:
• A last will is used to distribute property to beneficiaries, detail last wishes and name guardians for children. Without this paperwork, the courts will make these important decisions for you.
• A living trust also is used to transfer property to beneficiaries. However, this document typically is not subject to probate court.
• A living will allows you to outline crucial health-care decisions in advance, such as whether to remain on life support. A durable power of attorney for health care also can be appointed to make important medical decisions for you in cases where you cannot.
David Rubin of The Law Offices of David A. Rubin encourages individuals and families to seek the advice of an attorney when deciding what documents are best for them, as they denote life-changing choices, such as who will be listed in a person’s will and as guardian of their children. “A lawyer can help them decide who the right players will be,” he says, adding that many attorneys will offer a free consultation to discuss these matters.
Rubin recommends everyone—from young couples with or without children to the elderly—have a living will, a durable power of attorney for health care, a durable power of attorney for finances, and a last will. “A lot of times, people think these documents are for older people. But things can happen to anyone at any time,” Rubin cautions. He cites the 1983 case of Nancy Cruzan, a 25-year-old Missouri woman who suffered severe brain damage in a car accident. Because Cruzan did not have a living will, she remained in a vegetative state for seven years before the Missouri Department of Health ruled her parents could end her life by removing life support.
To avoid this type of tragedy, Rubin explains that a living will and a durable power of attorney for health care will let medical professionals and the courts know your health-care decisions if you are unable to communicate them. And a durable power of attorney for finances can handle your money matters while you are incapacitated. Additionally, he says a last will ensures your property is given to the desired beneficiaries and that guardians are named for any children.
Martha Brown of Martha C. Brown & Associates says preparation of these documents will save money and time in court. “It’s a misnomer that if you write a will, you don’t go through probate court,” she notes. However, a last will and a durable power of attorney for health care and finances can help prevent conflicts in court, she says.
Brown emphasizes that people need to consult an attorney to learn about their options and discuss their concerns. “To determine which documents are best, you need to consider your assets, family and more.”
Wills & Trusts