If you have a Will, you’ve taken an important step. However, if all you have is a Will, you’ve left yourself unprotected for a significant risk – disability. The risk is more obvious for the elderly, but illness or an accident can happen to anyone at any time.
What would happen if you were suddenly disabled? Who would pay your bills, talk with your insurance company, make medical decisions? If you are married, and have joint accounts with your spouse, then those accounts would be accessible. But your spouse has no legal right to access accounts that are held only in your name. Your insurance company, because of the HIPAA privacy laws, is not allowed to discuss your coverage unless you’ve given legal authority.
Planning for incapacity is an essential aspect of a sound financial and estate plan. Without proper planning, families find themselves in court filing for guardianship and conservatorship in order to make health care decisions and access and manage finances.
In Georgia, the two essential documents to protect yourself and your assets in the event of incapacity are a Financial Power of Attorney and an Advance Directive for Health Care.
A Financial Power of Attorney, sometimes called a General Power of Attorney, enables you to appoint someone as your agent, to manage your financial affairs. A Financial Power of Attorney can be effective when it is signed, or it can be a “springing” power of attorney that becomes effective only when triggered by a designated event, such as a doctor’s certificate of incapacity, or a panel of family members making a determination of incapacity.
An Advance Directive for Health Care, which replaced the old Georgia Living Will and Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care, enables you to appoint someone to make medical decisions if you are not able to communicate your wishes. You can also provide instructions on your treatment preferences.
There may be other estate planning techniques that are right for you, such as a revocable or an irrevocable trust. But the core documents that everyone should have include a Will, Financial Power of Attorney and Advance Directive for Health Care.