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The documents in your estate plan for during your life time

There are many reasons why people should have an estate plan, from the peace of mind that it can provide in having a plan if the worst should happen, to ensuring that your wishes are carried out when you pass. However, there are two other important elements to an estate plan that can serve you during life as well, a power of attorney and an advanced directive.

These two documents are to be used by you during your lifetime and can help you and your family get through some difficult times with less uncertainty and stress.

What is a power of attorney?

Many people have heard of a power of attorney, but they do not understand what it is and what it is used for. A power of attorney is a legal document where the signer, usually an elderly person or someone with diminished capacity to care for themselves, appoints someone to act on their legal behalf.

This appointed person is empowered to make decisions on behalf of the signer with regard to their assets and other legal decisions, however, they are not given power over their medical decisions. These documents can be blanket permissions that take effect as soon as it is signed, or it can be a springing power of attorney which only takes effect when certain conditions are met.

These can also be used by military service members deployed overseas, allowing their appointed person to make quick decisions for them while they are unavailable.

What is an advanced directive?

In a similar way to a power of attorney, an advanced directive is a legal document in which the signed appoints a person to be legally in charge of their medical decisions. This can include some additional restrictions as well for how the signed shall be cared for, such as refusing life support treatment or honoring a do not resuscitate request.

How these two documents work together

In most situations, the same person who is appointed for the power of attorney is also appointed in the advanced directive. This is ideal so that a single person is in charge of the signer’s care. You can have a secondary person appointed in case the first is unavailable, however, ideally only one person should be selected to make decisions at a time.

Some people want all of their children or family members involved or to not feel left out. However, when many people are appointed to make the decisions for the signer, that can lead to disputes among family members and prevent any decisions from being made.

Unless otherwise stated in the document, all appointed people would need to unanimously agree to any decisions for the signer. This can lead to situations where one person can veto decisions and prevent something that the rest of the family may want for the signer, such as a change in treatment or the sale of the family home.