Unfortunate, tragic occurrences can happen in life without warning. Accidents, illness, and even death can happen at any time. In Pennsylvania, there are a number of methods by which you can protect yourself and your loved ones from the ramifications of these situations.

In the following article, we will discuss the three (3) fundamental estate planning documents that every person should have.

Wills

A Last Will and Testament, commonly referred to as a “Will,” is a legal document that provides in writing a blueprint for the distribution of your assets to your heirs after you die.

The Will has a few basic components. First it identifies you, and that this document is your Will. It will also identify your heirs and beneficiaries, and how any debts, including funeral expenses should be handled. Most importantly, a Will identifies who your Executor will be. An Executor is the person who is authorized by your Will to gather your assets and pay your debts, and to distribute your assets according to your wishes.

If you die without a Will, Pennsylvania has a statutory scheme which divides up your assets based on the relationship people have to you (parents, children, siblings, nephews/nieces, aunts/uncles, etc.). By having a Will, you assume control over how you your affairs are handled after you die.

Financial Power of Attorney

A Financial Power of Attorney is a legal document that authorizes a person to handle your financial affairs while you are still alive. By appointing a financial agent, you are protecting yourself if you were to become incapacitated, even temporarily. The Financial Power of Attorney has the authority to handle your mortgage payments, rent, bank accounts, stock, credit cards, and so forth, if you wish them to do so, and without your involvement if you are unable to assist. Your financial agent can handle your fiscal affairs and ensure that there is no interruption in your finances.

Advanced Healthcare Directive (Healthcare Power of Attorney)

A Healthcare Power of Attorney appoints a Healthcare Agent to make medical decisions for you in the scenario where you cannot make medical decisions for yourself (i.e., coma, unconscious, or unable to express your wishes). It authorizes your Healthcare Agent to make determinations as to what treatment you are receiving, including surgery, among other things. By appointing a Healthcare Agent, you are ensuring that there is a living person who is your medical advocate who, in consultation with whatever medical providers you have, determines when and what treatment you should receive.

Living Will (as part of the Health Care Power of Attorney)

A Living Will, in general terms, is a document that applies if you are in an end-stage medical condition with no significant hope of recovery or permanently unconscious, and you are unable to communicate regarding your medical treatment. In that scenario, your Living Will “speaks” on your behalf by detailing in writing what your medical wishes are when you cannot communicate them yourself. It can state that it is your wish that you do not receive any further life-sustaining treatment in the event of the above conditions being present and confirmed. At OWM Law, the Living Will or Advance Directive is drafted in conjunction with the Healthcare Power of Attorney so that your Healthcare Agent can advocate for you regarding the wishes expressed in your Living Will. Having your end-stage treatment wishes expressed relieves your family of the burden of making those decisions for you in a difficult situation.

Conclusion

It is important to plan for situations in which you may not be able to make decisions for yourself and ultimately, what should be done with your property when you die. When making these Estate Planning decisions, you should consult with a law firm that practices in this area of law, such as O’Donnell, Weiss and Mattei, P.C. (610) 323-2800, so that you receive advice on the best way to manage your affairs and to plan for situations in which you cannot make decisions for yourself, both medically and financially.

— Written by Thomas P. McCabe, Esq.

DISCLAIMER: The contents of this blog are not legal advice, and are not to be used for that purpose. If you charged with a criminal offense or need help with a civil matter, you should contact a lawyer immediately in the order to ensure that your rights are protected. Thomas P. McCabe, Esquire is a licensed Pennsylvania lawyer, and does not purport to comment on any other jurisdiction in the United States of America.

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