You’re an adult. You work, pay bills, and make your own decisions. You have car insurance and a savings account. In your day-to-day life, you have things relatively under control.
But what if something happened to you? Have you made a plan for how your affairs should be handled in the unfortunate event that you become unable to express your wishes? Who would have the ability to sign your checks to pay your bills? Do you have a plan for how your children would be cared for if you could no longer care for them? What about your estate?
No one likes to think about these kinds of scenarios—but it’s all part of being an adult. Here are four legal documents you must have:
1. A Will
Most people plan on living long healthy lives into their elderly years, and it’s becoming more likely with medical advancements that you will. However, the truth is that tomorrow is promised to no one. That’s why it’s important to have a properly executed Will in place.
When a person passes without a Will, their property is passed down according to state intestate laws. Intestate laws are statutory laws that determine which next of kin will inherit your property and what portion of your estate they will inherit. In South Carolina, if you are married with children, your spouse will get 50% and your children will get 50%. Most people, however would prefer their spouse get 100% if they are still living and for their children to inherit, only after the second of you passes. Having a Will in place allows you to determine who will inherit your property and under what circumstances..
Also, a Will allows you to appoint a guardian for your children in the event you become incapacitated or pass away.
Keep in mind that simply writing down your wishes on a piece of paper will not create a proper Will. Each state has guidelines for the proper execution of a Will, which nearly always involve witnesses to the signing of your Will. Consult an experienced estate planning lawyer to draft a will that reflects your wishes for your estate. A lawyer can lead you through the process of properly executing your Will so it is legally enforceable later on.
2. A Durable Power of Attorney
If you were to become incapacitated, a Durable Power of Attorney would enable a person who you appoint to make legal, and financial decisions on your behalf. Your Durable POA allows your Agent to pay your bills, buy and sell assets, communicate with your financial institutions and much more. Think about it, if you were in an accident, if your bank account is not a joint account, your spouse does not have authority to write checks from that account in order to pay your daily bills. What if that accident caused you to be permanently disabled? Without a Durable POA, your loved one may not be able to sell your home to pay for your long term care.
3. Health Care Power of Attorney
A Health Care Power of Attorney sets out your medical wishes, should you become unable to express them yourself. Having a Health Care Power of Attorney in place will not only give you peace of mind, but it will make responding to a stressful medical emergency easier for your family because they will have the authority to make medical decisions for you.
4. Declaration of a Desire for a Natural Death (Living Will)
A Declaration of a Desire for a Natural Death, also called a Living Will, sets out your wishes for your care in the event you have a terminal illness or are in a persistent vegetative state. Some examples of directions you can include in a Living Will are:
While it’s not always pleasant to think about these legal documents—all four are important and necessary. Once you have them in place, you can enjoy the peace of mind that comes with knowing your affairs are all in order, and your wishes and loved ones will be taken care of.