Money Matters

Booklet a suitable replacement for living will, not estate plan

December 29, 2012 

Q. I signed up for Medicare, selected a Medicare Supplement plan and received a huge package from them which included a small booklet entitled Five Wishes. You can see the booklet by clicking on “View a Preview of Five Wishes” at www.agingwithdignity.org. I have been planning to get my affairs in order and meet with an attorney, but after reviewing this booklet maybe this is all I need, what do you think?

The booklet serves a purpose as a possible replacement for a living will and/or durable power of attorney for health care but it doesn’t satisfy the requirements of a good estate plan. A living will is a written statement of your wishes regarding medical treatments. If you are unable to provide instructions at the time medical decisions need to be made, the statements in your living will should be followed. Living wills are commonly limited to decisions about life-sustaining procedures in the event of terminal illness which is why a health care power of attorney is also needed.

A health care power of attorney designates a person to act as your agent if you cannot act, a living will does not appoint an agent. Should you ever lose your capacity to make or communicate decisions because of a temporary or permanent illness or injury, the health care power of attorney lets you retain some control over important health care decisions by choosing a person to make and communicate these decisions for you.

An appointed agent (someone you trust of course) will have the ability to participate in discussions and weigh the pros and cons of treatment decisions in accordance with your wishes. Without a formally appointed person, many health care providers will make critical decisions for you, which may not be what you would want. You can include limitations to the health care power of attorney. The health care power of attorney can include specific instructions to your agent about any treatment you want done or want to avoid. You can cover any and all treatment issues you care about in this document. If you have a preference regarding specific medical decisions they should be stated in this document.

The Five Wishes booklet covers some important issues in addition to the designation of a person to make health care decisions on your behalf and the kind of medical treatment you will accept or not accept. It also deals with personal, spiritual and emotional wishes. It provides some good thoughts about how comfortable you would like to be, how you wish to be treated and things you’d like your loved ones to know. These types of directives can avoid stress and conflict between family and friends by letting them know what you want when you cannot speak for yourself.

At the very least, you need a basic will. If you don’t make a will, state law will determine who gets your property and if you have minor children a judge may determine who will raise them. With a will you can leave your property to the people or organizations of your choosing, name the person you want to take care of your minor children, name the person you want to manage any property left to minor children and name the person responsible for making sure the terms of your will are carried out “executing your will.”

You may need more than a basic will if any of the following apply: you or your spouse expect to owe estate tax, you want to leave property in a trust, you have a loved one with special needs, you are married and have children from a previous marriage, you think someone may contest or dispute your will, you own property in more than one state or in another country.

Another estate planning document you should create is a power of attorney for finances.

Free estate planning tools are a useful way to begin getting your thoughts in order but they are no match for what a good estate planning attorney can accomplish, I suggest you hire one.

Holly Nicholson is a certified financial planner in Raleigh. She cannot answer every question. Reach her at askholly.com or P.O. Box 97128, Raleigh, NC 27624

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