The Last Will and Testament provides instructions for the distribution of your assets and property upon death. The document desginates (i) to whom your assets go (the "Beneficiaries"), and (ii) the individual who will carry out these instructions (the "Executor"). Additionally, depending on the specifics of your Will, you may need to appoint an individual to oversee assets in a trust (the "Trustee"). The Executor and Trustee are considered "fiduciaries", or a party entrusted to act on your behalf.
Prior to meeting with your Estate Planning attorney you should give good consideration to those you are designating as your Beneficiaries, Executor, and/or Trustee. Pay special attention to the individual(s) you appoint to Fiduciary roles.
Ideally, choose someone who you trust, is responsible, will act appropriately, and carry out your wishes as you have stated. You should speak with these individuals beforehand to assure they are comfortable serving in this role.
Durable Power of Attorney
A Power of Attorney ("POA") authorizes your named Agent to take personal and financial actions on your behalf. This may include opening and closing bank accounts, speaking with financial institutions on your behalf, selling real property, even making gifts.
The unique characteristic of a Power of Attorney is that only those Powers specifically included may your Agent exercise on your behalf. This provides a great deal of control over the actions your Agent may take for you.
When choosing your Agent, it is crucial to select someone you trust implicitly as he or she will be have access to your banking and financial accounts.
Finally, in some states, you may choose between a Stand-by (or Springing) or an Immediately Effective POA. The Stand-By POA does not become effective until you are incapacitated, while an immediately effective POA goes into effect as soon as you sign it. Your Estate Planning Attorney will discuss with you the benefits and detriments of each.
Medical Power of Attorney
The Medical Power of Attorney ("MPOA") is a document authorizing your named Agent to make medical decisions for you, if you are unable to do so, and to access your confidential medical records.
It is advisable that you execute an MPOA in order to assure decisions can be made for you and essential medical care provided if you are unable to seek such care yourself.
The Living Will is an end-of-life declaration that states your wishes if you are unconscious, unable to communicate your wishes, and have absolutely no chance of recovery.
Although Living Will forms are available on the internet, and sometimes in magazines, it is imperative that you have a detailed and proper Living Will prepared. In response to the Terry Schiavo issue from several years ago, Living Will laws have changed and health care providers have dramatically altered their procedures with regard to end-of-life situations.
A proper Living Will is a detailed, multi-page document that provides clear instructions in such a situation.