Important Legal Documents

Important Legal Documents

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Important Legal Documents

Most of us do not plan for end-or-life events, and hate mentioning them. But worst-case planning can relieve parents and family members of physical or mental suffering and heavy moral burdens. Such planning can also give parents assurance that their wishes will be carried out, in the event they cannot do so. Like a medical catastrophe, impoverishment or incapacity which you hope may never happen, the purpose of legal documents is to give some protection for an unexpected event. To be on the safe side, to protect your loved one’s wishes, they need to be expressed in written or video directives.

Two kinds of legal documents, one set for financial matters and another for health care, are both very important. To help you become better informed on these matters, we provide you with a hotlink to the forms that can be downloaded from the Internet. As with any topic of such nature, your attorney should prepare, or review these documents. Remember, different states have different forms. If your parents regularly spend time in more than one state, you may need to have documents prepared for each state.

Here is a brief guide to what you’ll need.


Everyone should have one, no matter their age or their health. A will describes how assets distributed after a person dies. Without a will, a family can get stuck in long, costly and divisive legal proceedings. A will may not prevent family feuds, but it does clarify information.

Durable Power of Attorney

This important document can give you (or another trusted person) legal authority to make legal and financial decisions, should your parents be unable to decide for themselves. A “durable” power of attorney allows the designated agent to act for a person who is not physically or mentally able to act for themselves. An ordinary power of attorney is not valid when the person granting it is incapacitated.

Living Will

A living will is NOT actually a will. It is a document that lets your parents tell loved ones and doctors what kind of treatment they want to receive if they are unable to communicate, or at the end of life. It is a document that lets your parents tell loved ones and doctors what kind of treatment they want to receive if they are unable to communicate, or at the end of life. It explains what kind of life support measures they do or do not want. Together with a medical power of attorney, a living will is often called an advance directive.

Medical Power of Attorney

Sometimes called a health care proxy, this document designates someone to make sure that a person’s health care wishes are met when they are too sick to speak for themselves. For instance, the health care proxy or health care surrogate can help a doctor interpret the provisions of a living will.

How do I persuade loved ones to prepare these important documents?

It isn’t easy. The key is to talk about it. Ask your parents how they feel about illness, death and dying. Ask how their religious and moral beliefs help them think about these issues. One way to start the conversation is to tell them that you’ve prepared these documents for yourself. Another is to talk about a friend or relative who suffered a prolonged death because they did not tell their family and doctors their wishes.

Are people available to help get the discussion started? Absolutely. Sometimes clergy or doctors can help start the conversation.

What should I do with the documents when they’re prepared?

Original copies should be kept in a safe deposit box or with your lawyer. Copies of advance directives such as living wills and medical power of attorney designations should be widely distributed to doctors, hospitals and long-term care facilities, such as nursing homes. Place a copy of the medical attorney form on the refrigerator, next to the key contacts list. In a hospital situation, make sure that the form is attached to the medical chart.

Who should hold power of attorney?

It is very important to choose a legal representative who is willing and able to manage complex financial and health care decisions. You, your siblings and your parents should talk honestly about who can best manage these tasks. Because health care decisions sometimes must be made quickly, it may be most convenient if the health care surrogate lives near the patient. But be sure to give the responsibility to someone who will best represent the wishes of your parents. If the authority rests with your equally infirm other parent, who may want to “hold on” despite the spouse’s wishes, you may face real obstacles when difficult decisions arise.

Can more than one person be financial attorney or health care proxy?

Yes. But if the two people can’t agree on medical and financial issues, the repercussions can last for years. One solution is to designate a primary attorney and a back-up in the event the first person is unreachable and can’t act. Another is to have a process in place to resolve disputes.

Will these documents be honored in more than one state?

Sometimes. But to be safe, you might want separate documents for each state if your parent spends part of the year in one state and part of the year in another. If your parents move from one state to another, their legal documents should be reviewed by a local lawyer in their new state of residence.

For additional information, click on to the following tools prepared by the American Bar Association.

Consumer’s Tool Kit for Health Care Advance Planning

An American Bar Association 10-part series of worksheets, suggestions and resources.

This Kit Includes:

Tool #1 How to Select Your Health Care Agent of Proxy
Tool #2 Are Some Conditions Worse than Death?
Tool #3 How do you Weigh Odds of Survival?
Tool #4 Personal Priorities and Spiritual Values Important to your Medical Decisions
Tool #5 After Death Decisions to Think About Now
Tool #6 Conversation Scripts: Getting Past the Resistance
Tool #7 The Proxy Quiz for Family and Physician
Tool #8 What to Do after Signing your Health Care Advance Directive
Tool #9 Guide for Health Care Proxies
Tool #10 Resources: Advance Planning for Health Care
Visit Caring From a Distance (CFAD) An organization for long-distance caregivers. Are you one of the 6.9 million Americans struggling to care for an aging parent or other loved one who lives in a far-away city? If you are, they are here to help.