Plan for Tomorrow

We must not only plan for the distribution of our assets in the case of death but plan for our own disability. Even if we avoid a serious illness or accident early in life, age will catch up to us eventually. Step one in making that plan is deciding who will speak for you. There are documents that allow you to designate who will speak for you in certain circumstances.

1. Will. At the bare minimum, you need a will that appoints a personal representative and names beneficiaries. The personal representative is the person who will speak for you after you are gone; whether that means they will see that your estate is distributed to family members or the local Humane Society. You should have a will even if you have a trust. If the estate plan includes some kind of trust then it may include a “pour over will” which catches any property that may have inadvertently missed the trust and designates the living trust as the beneficiary. If everything is set out clearly in the will there will be fewer disputes and thus fewer legal costs. If you want someone other than your personal representative to handle your digital assets, such as your Facebook page, you should designate that in your will.

2. Power of Attorney. A Power of Attorney authorizes someone to perform business transactions for you such as banking and paying bills as your agent while you are still alive. If you are healthy, you may not think you need one, but you should have one that activates if you become injured or ill. Colorado’s standard for contains many options and have room for additional instructions. Don’t just sign it without reading it and choosing the options best for your situation. If you are designating a friend or a professional such as your attorney or accountant, add a comment that specifies why you place special trust in that person. For example, you could mention how long you have known each other and how well they know you. You may also designate this person as your conservator and/or guardian if you need one. That will strengthen the agent’s power to help you with your affairs when you are unable to.

3. Medical Power of Attorney. A Medical Power of Attorney authorizes someone to make medical decisions for you, including making treatment decisions and termination of life support. It must be a separate document from the General Power of Attorney but it can name the same person. Read it carefully and make choices where appropriate. Add in comments about how you have discussed your wishes with the person you have named and why you place special confidence in this person. Doing so will strengthen your agent’s power to carry out your wishes. Include information about your lifestyle choices and your faith community in support of your choices. You may also want to designate the same person as your guardian. The standard Colorado Medical Power of Attorney form includes a place where you can do that.

Colorado Medical Power of Attorney form also contains sections that replace a “Living Will.” There are several choices regarding life support and other extraordinary measures and well as space for expressing your wishes in your own words.

4. Appoint a HIPAA agent and provide for HIPAA releases to others. Some Medical Power of Attorney forms include a section to designate a HIPAA agent. If yours does not, then you should sign a separate document to choose a HIPAA agent. If you have not designated a HIPAA agent, doctors and hospitals may withhold your medical information from your friends and family members who are assisting you with your medical treatment. It can also be more difficult for them to deal with lawyers, courts, and Social Security on your behalf.

5. Designate Guardian or Conservator: If you have not done so in another document, sign a document listing your choice of a Guardian or Conservator if you are incapacitated. If you do not do this before you are unable to express your decision, a probate judge may appoint a public administrator to make decisions for you. A public administrator is not a government employee but rather a private attorney who charges fees to your estate for making decisions for you when you are unable to. While some public administrators are well-meaning, they have large caseloads. They are all strangers to you and your family and don’t have the time to really understand your needs and desires.

In all cases, discuss your desires with your friends and family. It may seem an awkward subject but if they understand what you want before the crisis strikes then there will be less uncertainty. Write your desires down in letters and e-mail. If any of your other documents are challenged those will provide evidence to back them up. It should be your voice that is heard.

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