Advertisement
retirement

4 Legal Documents Everyone Needs on Hand

COVID-19 has forced a lot of people to think about hard life-and-death decisions. Filling these documents out now will make sure you and your loved ones are on the same page, literally.

A family emergency involving a loved one, including a serious illness, can happen without warning. Lining up these legal documents in advance—and keeping them in a safe but accessible place—will save you precious time and unnecessary hassle.

Durable power of attorney. This document, which generally goes into effect immediately, gives you and your spouse (or partner) the authority to manage each other’s finances if one of you becomes incapacitated. Adult children or a trusted friend can also hold your power of attorney. You can order the form from an online legal site, such as Nolo.com, for about $60. But the better route is to use an estate-planning lawyer. A lawyer will make sure the form conforms to state law and is properly executed.

Advertisement - Article continues below

Some banks and brokerage firms use their own form, or they may not honor a power of attorney unless certain conditions are met. Make sure you and your “attorney in fact” complete the required paperwork, and ask the institution to keep a copy on file.

Health care proxy. Sometimes referred to as a power of attorney for health care or an advance directive for health care, this document gives you and your spouse the right to make medical decisions for each other—or you can give other family members the right 
to make medical decisions for each of you. The proxy can include consenting to surgery or authorizing life support.

Becoming the health care proxy means discussing how you and your spouse define an acceptable quality of life. For example, would you agree to a feeding tube if it would prolong life? Would religious beliefs or personal values affect the choice of treatment? Although the health care power of attorney gives you legal authority to make medical decisions for your spouse, doctors may balk at following your instructions if a family member objects. To avoid that scenario, you and your spouse should brief other family members about the decisions you’ve made.

Advertisement
Advertisement - Article continues below
Advertisement - Article continues below

Medical information release. This form gives doctors permission to share your spouse’s medical records with you. Because there isn’t a standardized medical release form, you and your spouse should get one from your doctors or hospital.

Living will. This document lets you and your spouse provide written guidance on what kind of treatment each of you wants—or doesn’t want—during a terminal illness.

“Five Wishes,” a form that serves as both a health care power of attorney and a living will, is accepted in 44 states and the District of Columbia. For more information and to download or order a form ($5), visit www.fivewishes.org. If this form doesn’t meet the requirements in your state, the American Bar Association offers free resources that will help you with this task, including a generic form that’s accepted in most states. Go to www.americanbar.org and search for “Giving Someone Power of Attorney for Your Health Care.” You can find a state-specific living will form at www.caringinfo.org.

Advertisement

Most Popular

12 Tax Deadlines for July 15 (It's Not Just the Due Date for Your Tax Return)
tax deadline

12 Tax Deadlines for July 15 (It's Not Just the Due Date for Your Tax Return)

Between due dates for paying estimated taxes, IRA or HSA contributions, and other deadlines, there's more to do by July 15 than just filing your feder…
July 14, 2020
65 Best Dividend Stocks You Can Count On
stocks

65 Best Dividend Stocks You Can Count On

These 65 Dividend Aristocrats are an elite group of dividend stocks that have reliably increased their annual payouts every year for at least a quarte…
July 8, 2020
Tax Day 2020: When's the Last Day to File Taxes?
tax deadline

Tax Day 2020: When's the Last Day to File Taxes?

Thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, the 2020 tax deadline was pushed back to give taxpayers (and tax preparers) more time to file returns.
July 14, 2020

Recommended

Exit Strategies for Charitable Remainder Trusts
estate planning

Exit Strategies for Charitable Remainder Trusts

CRTs offer tax and income-planning flexibility as life changes over the years.
July 1, 2020
For Financially Responsible Kids, Do NOT Do These 3 Things
family savings

For Financially Responsible Kids, Do NOT Do These 3 Things

The key to putting your kids on the right financial path can be boiled down into one sentence.
July 1, 2020
10 Tax Breaks for the Middle Class
tax deductions

10 Tax Breaks for the Middle Class

Tax breaks aren't just for the rich. There are plenty of them that are only available to middle- and low-income Americans.
June 30, 2020
Tax Changes and Key Amounts for the 2020 Tax Year
tax law

Tax Changes and Key Amounts for the 2020 Tax Year

Americans are facing a long list of tax changes for the 2020 tax year...and it's never too early to start thinking about next year's return.
June 22, 2020