Most of the time when I ask people about their estate planning documents, the answer is something like, “I know it’s important. I’m planning to get those done soon!”

But here’s the thing—you don’t need them until you NEED them…and then it’s usually too late.

Ensuring that you and your loved ones have the right documents in place will help make difficult situations a little more bearable. They will allow people dealing with end-of-life circumstances to have their wishes followed and implemented.

So, what are some of the key end-of-life estate planning documents you should be aware of?

1. Durable Power of Attorney

A Durable Power of Attorney (DPOA) allows you to appoint an individual to make financial decisions for in in the instance that you are incapacitated or unable to act on your own behalf. It’s important to note that a DPOA is different than a Power of Attorney (POA). A POA only grants authority to another if you are mentally cognizant and still able to act on your behalf. This is a very important distinction to be aware of, and one that may have a significant impact on your wellbeing if you are ever in a situation where you need someone else to handle your affairs.

2. Living Will

A living will is a legal document that lets you list your end-of-life and health care wishes. This helps the person making medical decisions on your behalf to know exactly what you want, and what you don’t want. A living will may also be referred to as an advance directive or a directive to physicians.

3. Health Care Proxy

A health care proxy provides an individual of your choosing the authority to make health care decisions on your behalf. It is also commonly referred to as a durable power of attorney for health care, appointment of a healthcare agent, or a medical power of attorney.

4. Medical Release

A medical release form will allow a friend or family member to access your medical history and records. It will also allow them to monitor current health conditions to assist in making decisions for you (assuming a health care proxy is in place as well). This documents is often referred to as a HIPAA release, which refers to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.

Are You Prepared?

Once you have established the documents you need through an estate planning professional, it’s recommended to keep copies in an easily accessible location. Hospitals and doctors will request copies prior to taking directions from the friend or family member you have appointed to act on your behalf.

Regardless of your current health situation, circumstances can change swiftly and without warning. Do yourself, and your loved ones, a favor by ensuring you have the proper estate planning documents in place.

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