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Estate Planning Checklist

legal doc..jpgStudies show 70% of Americans do not have a plan or necessary legal documents in place for end of life care.  Without the proper legal documents in place, end of life care can become costly and complicated for you and your loved ones.  It's better to have these conversations before there is a crisis or illness.  It's never too early to have these conversations. offer these tips for getting your end of life documents in order. 

5 Essential End of Life Documents 

1.   Last Will and Testament

A last will and testament, also known as a will, is a document that states your older adult’s last wishes regarding their estate after they die.

Generally, a will should include the following items:

  • Executor:  A personal representative, be it a person or institution, that sees to it that wishes are carried out as specified in the will.

  • Beneficiaries:  The person or people who will receive their property.

  • Personal properties:  Assets they may want to divide between beneficiaries.

  • Business assets:  Business assets are typically distributed separately from personal property, so specifying to whom and how business interests are to be divided is essential.

  • Debts, expenses, and taxes:  Final expenses should be addressed as well. For instance, how will the funeral be financed, or how is inheritance and estate tax to be handled?

  • Special instructions:  If there are special instructions, like how their home is to be cared for, or arranging a caretaker for their pet, it should be included.

If they have a complicated financial situation, like property in other states or a substantial estate, then they will want to be as specific as possible when writing their will. Otherwise, the probate court will determine how and to whom their property is divided out and will collect court costs directly from the estate.

2.  Power of Attorney

A power of attorney (POA) authorizes another person the right to act on your older adult’s behalf in legal, personal, medical, or business matters.  There are different degrees of power that can be granted, which must be determined by your older adult.  Here are four types of power of attorney to be aware of:

  • General Power of Attorney gives the agent (the appointed person) the power to sign documents, pay bills, and make financial transactions on your older adult’s behalf. This POA terminates when they die.

  • Limited Power of Attorney has a very specific purpose, such as giving the agent the power to represent and act for your older adult on a specific day and time.  After the agent has fulfilled their purpose, the POA terminates.

  • Healthcare Power of Attorney comes into effect once your older adult is considered legally incapacitated by their doctor or they are no longer able to make medical decisions on their own. A healthcare POA specifically allows the agent to make medical decisions on your older adult’s behalf.

  • Durable Power of Attorney come into effect when your older adult is incapacitated.  The extent of power the agent has must be specified in the document beforehand, but usually allows them to make financial and/or medical decisions


Advanced Healthcare Directives / Living Wills

Advanced healthcare directives (also called living wills) are instructions provided by your older adult. They specify how they would like to be cared for when they are no longer able to make decisions themselves.

These documents typically state wishes regarding treatments like life support or pain medication. Family, hired caregivers, and doctors use it as a guide for care decisions.

Advanced Care Planning & Five Wishes

Advance Care Planning simply means "discussing and documenting our wishes and preferences for the kind of care and treatment we want or do not want in advance, so that if we are unable to communicate our choices, what we want is understood."

Five Wishes is a document that helps you express types of medical treatment you do and don't want, what matters most to you, and any faith or spiritual traditions you wish honored.  This document may serve as a guide for your loved ones and healthcare providers. to help determine treatment in certain situations.   


HIPAA waiver of authorization

A Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) waiver of authorization is a legal document stating that protected health information (PHI) can be shared between third parties outside of your older adult’s healthcare provider.  That can include doctors, caregivers, attorneys, researchers, or family members.

Without this document, your older adult’s appointed health care proxy (the agent that holds the healthcare POA) may not be allowed to freely discuss matters regarding PHI or other medical conditions with a physician or caregiver.

Authorized user on investment and bank accounts

Lastly, it’s wise for your older adult to authorize a trusted person to have access to their accounts. Otherwise, if they become incapacitated or pass away suddenly, it will become very complicated to gain access to those accounts. This is especially important if family or loved ones are dependent on them for financial support. By granting someone access to these accounts, your older adult can ensure that those people will be taken care of.

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Download these 10 Legal Tips for Caregivers from the American Bar Association


Elder Law Attorney 

You can complete certain legal documents without a lawyer, but getting legal advice and services from a board certified Elder Law attorney who specializes in elder law can be especially helpful. A board certification assures the public that the attorney has substantial experience and demonstrated special knowledge, skills and proficiency in certified areas of practice and professionalism and ethics in the practice of law.

What To Bring To The Lawyer:

  • Gather all documents relating to the assets so you can bring them to your appointment.

  • Itemized list of assets (e.g., bank accounts, contents of safe deposit boxes, vehicles, real estate, etc.), including current value and the names listed as owners, account holders and beneficiaries

  • Copies of all estate planning documents, including wills, trusts and powers of attorney

  • Copies of all deeds to real estate

  • Copies of recent income tax return

  • Life insurance policies and cash values of policies

  • Health insurance policies or benefits booklets

  • Admission agreements to any health care facilities

  • List of names, addresses and telephone numbers of those involved, including family members, domestic partners and caregivers, as well as financial planners and/or accountants

If you meet with a lawyer, be sure to discuss options available concerning health care, especially if your loved one has dementia, options for managing the person’s personal care and property and possible coverage of long-term care services, including what is provided by Medicare, Medicaid, veteran benefits and other long-term care insurance 

Finding An Elder Law Attorney

Call Your Local Leeza’s Care Connection or use one of the following resources:

·        Online directory of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys

·        Visit Eldercare Locator online or call 800-677-1116

·        Visit to learn about free or reduced cost legal aid programs in your community

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