Mother’s Day is one of those special days that remind us of those special relationships we have or had that should be protected and cherished. It also marks our lives with a reminder that we each grow a bit older each day and each of us needs to consider taking steps to be ready for those times when we may not be able to overcome challenges we or those we love may face.
The most rudimentary legal document that everyone and their mother should have in place is a Will. It sets forth the “testator’s” desire for his or her property, appoints an “executor” to help the process along, and designates a guardian for minor children (among other things). The legal requirements for a proper execution differ from state to state and failure to follow the legal mandates could make the Will worthless.
While some people attempt to put their desires in their Will to take care of their finances or their medical care in the event of incapacitation, the courts have generally ignored those desires unless the statutory mandates are met. Two important documents that everyone should consider legally completing are a Power of Attorney for Health Care and a Durable Power of Attorney for finances.
The Power of Attorney for Health Care appoints an individual or two to make health care decisions in case the principal becomes incapacitated. This document, if executed properly, allows your designee to make very important medical care decisions relative to your treatment if you are unable to do so. For instance, it would give that person the ability to place you in a nursing home, use or withhold the use of a feeding tube, abort a fetus, donate your organs, or withhold medication in certain circumstances. The laws on that in Wisconsin changed several years ago and people may want to review their older form to make sure that the document still complies with the law.
The Durable Power of Attorney for Finances authorizes the management of property and financial transactions. This document can be valid as soon as it is signed without requiring any finding of incapacity if you so desire. Thus, it can be used for convenience and not just to manage the property of an incapacitated or incompetent person. It is interesting to note that there is now a requirement that it be honored by a financial institution unless there are compelling reasons not to do so. This now obviates the need to have separate forms for each institution with which you may do business.
Whether it be an executor under the Will or your agent under the two Durable Power documents, it is important to make a wise decision in naming them, since all these documents permit the agent to fulfill what you want after you are unable to do so with minimal to no court supervision. These are things our mothers did for us when we were young but now is the time to make sure that we (and our loved ones) make sure that others do what we want when we are not able to do so.