As your life circumstances change through marriage, children, grandchildren, moving, divorce or other events, your estate plan should be reviewed and updated to reflect your current situation and wishes.
Many clients realize when their situation or circumstances change that the central part of their estate plan (typically a trust or a will) needs to be updated, but forget about the other documents they prepared as part of their comprehensive plan. Other such documents may include a Financial Power of Attorney, Health Care Power of Attorney and/or Directive to Physicians, often referred to as a “Living Will”. Oftentimes the same person is nominated to serve as, for example, the Successor Trustee and the Attorney in Fact under a Financial Power of Attorney. If a client changes their successor trustee because that person is no longer a good choice but forgets to also update their Power of Attorney designation, their intentions and wishes may be thwarted as the person they intended to completely remove from their plan is actually still an integral part of it. In addition to modifying the person or people nominated in a Financial or Health Care Power of Attorney, your wishes regarding end of life decisions might also change. Thus, one’s Directive to Physicians should also be revisited every few years to assure that those are still your wishes. These documents should also be periodically reviewed and updated to reflect changes in the law governing Powers of Attorney and Health Care Directives.
Below is a brief description of several of the ancillary documents that should be a part of your estate plan which ought to be periodically reviewed on a regular basis along with your will or trust to ensure your estate plan is current and reflects your intent.
1. Financial Power of Attorney - A Financial Power of Attorney allows you to designate an agent to act on your behalf regarding your financial affairs in the event of incapacity or unavailability. If you become incapacitated, this document gives another person full legal authority to sign on your behalf and manage your assets and financial affairs.
2. Health Care Power of Attorney – A Health Care Power of Attorney allows you to appoint someone to make health care decisions for you in the event you are unable to make them for yourself, as well as when you are terminally ill. This power only becomes effective upon your incapacity. It contains a statement of your desires and generally speaking gives broad powers of health care decisions to whomever you have named as agent in your Health Care Power of Attorney.
3. Directive to Physicians (Living Will)- This document lets family members know what type of care you do or do not want to receive should you become unable to make rational decisions due to incapacity. The Directive to Physicians states that if you have an incurable or irreversible condition that, without the administration of life-sustaining treatments, will cause death within a relatively short time in the opinion of your treating physician, your attending physician is authorized to withhold or withdraw treatment that only prolongs the process of dying and is not necessary for your comfort or to alleviate pain.
In summary, please don’t forget to review these important documents on occasions when you feel that changes in life have impacted your estate plan.