If tackling that morbid and decidedly not fun subject of estate planning was part of your New Year’s Resolution (like it was mine), I thought it would be valuable to break down the three “must have” estate planning documents in Maryland. Although it is possible to create versions of these documents without legal assistance, it is strongly recommended that an attorney with estate planning expertise be consulted.
Power of Attorney
I have previously posted on the importance of powers of attorney so I won’t go into too much detail on this first important estate planning document. In a nutshell, everyone should execute a power of attorney to designate a person to handle their financial matters in case they were ever disabled and unable to do so themselves. The alternative is a time consuming and costly legal guardianship process that can become complicated if family members disagree on who should make financial decisions.
Advanced Medical Directive
The next recommended document is an Advanced Medical Directive. Thankfully the State has recently published an easy-to-use guide and form for an Advanced Medical Directive. The Advanced Medical Directive form allows a person both to choose a health care agent and make end of life or living will treatment preferences in the same document. A health care agent is a person designated to make health care decisions on your behalf if you are unable to do so. By designating a health care agent, you are authorizing your medical care givers to share your information with that person which avoids any privacy issues from the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA). The treatment preferences are very important medical decisions that can guide your health care agent and make his or her job less stressful. It is strongly recommended that you communicate to the people designated in the directive that you have given them these designations and provide them with a copy of the document. It might not be the most cheery of conversation topics but saving your family from having to make unpleasant choices on your behalf with no guidance is a worthwhile exercise.
Last Will and Testament
The final document is a last will and testament. Having a last will and testament is advised regardless of the amount of a person’s assets. If a person dies without a will, the distribution of assets is dictated by the Maryland laws of intestacy and there is nothing any heirs or surviving spouses can do to affect the distribution. With a properly executed will, a person can determine how their assets are to be distributed. Additionally, those with minor children can name guardians for their children in the will. The complexity of a will depends on the amount and nature of assets but most attorneys would agree that a simple will is better than no will at all.