The 5 Legal Documents Every Senior Should Have - Amber Courtal

The 5 Legal Documents Every Senior Should Have

June 1, 2021

Most aging specialists agree that there are certain legal documents every senior should have to protect themselves and their assets…so why do so many seniors put this off?


Maybe it’s because we have a hard time admitting that we’re aging or view it as giving up control of our decisions or property. In fact, having the right legal documents in place is actually the opposite of giving up control.


Here are 5 legal documents every senior should have to make sure that their wishes are known and to choose who will carry those wishes out if they aren’t able to do so themselves.


Why It’s Important To Have A Plan for the Future

It’s important to not only have a plan for the future but also to communicate that plan to your loved ones and have it documented. This is so that they can ensure that your wishes are followed.


If you were to become too sick to make medical choices for yourself, would your family know what interventions you want and which to say ‘no’ to? You can eliminate the stress and confusion for your family by legally documenting your wishes.


If you were to pass away without a will or estate plan, the state will decide which family members will inherit your estate and in what proportions. What you want to happen to your assets may be very different.


Divorces, remarriage, and blended families are more common these days and can make estate planning more complex. Legal documents that clearly lay out your wishes may reduce conflict and speculation over what you “would have” wanted.


Legal Documents Every Senior Should Have

If you have a simple estate and an uncomplicated family situation, you may be able to create several of these documents yourself for little cost. If you have considerable assets or a more complex family situation, an experienced lawyer can make sure you cover all your bases.


1. A Will

A will allows you to spell out how you would like your assets and property to be distributed after you pass away.


You can designate property to be given to:


  • Family
  • Friends
  • Charities
  • Schools
  • Anyone you would like


It also allows you to name an executor. This is a person whose job it is to make sure that the stipulations in your will are carried out. You can also name guardians for minor and dependant children and pets.


A will can also serve as a back-up for other estate planning documents such as a living trust. Your will will cover any property that you forget to transfer into a trust, acquire after the trust is made, or is transferred incorrectly. This can help you avoid probate.


A will is an essential document that can be put in place (sometimes without even needing an attorney) well before it is needed. It can be updated as often as you would like if circumstances or your wishes change.


2. Health Care Power of Attorney

A “power of attorney” allows you to choose someone to act on your behalf in important matters. A durable power of attorney for healthcare means that you can name someone to make medical decisions for you if you become unable to speak for yourself.


These decisions can include: consenting to or refusing care, procedures, or treatments; making arrangements for hospitalization or psychiatric treatment; managing access to medical records; or deciding to move you to another facility.


This type of power of attorney should also include what’s known as a “HIPAA release” which allows the designated person access to your medical records and gives them the ability to discuss your care with your doctors.


3. Power of Attorney for Finances

Having someone to help manage your finances if you become unable is as important as having someone to help you make healthcare decisions.


A power of attorney for finances allows a person that you select to have access to your financial records and make transactions on your behalf.


These are some transactions that a person with financial power of attorney may handle on your behalf:


  • Paying bills and taxes
  • Managing investments
  • Buying insurance
  • Paying for medical care
  • Selling assets as needed


You should select a financial agent that you feel will act in your best interest. This can be a family member, friend, or a  trusted financial advisor.


4. Living Will (Advanced Healthcare Directive)

You don’t want to leave your family with the difficult task of trying to guess what you would have wanted in the event of a serious medical illness. This is where a living will (also known as a medical directive or advanced healthcare directive) comes in.


A medical directive should include detailed instructions regarding matters such as:


  • Resuscitation
  • Intubation
  • Invasive life-sustaining measures
  • Pain relief
  • Antibiotics
  • Life support
  • Organ Donation


Many people have a living will drawn up at the same time as their regular will. Often you can purchase a package deal.


An easy no-cost way to get an advanced healthcare directive is the “Five Wishes” from the nonprofit organization Aging with Dignity. This document is legally valid in most states. It includes all the instructions and information that you need to create a valid advance directive.


5. A Revocable Living Trust

A revocable living trust is similar to a will in that it allows you to decide who will receive your assets after you are gone.  You move the property that you want into the trust and decide who it will be granted to after you pass. You then act as the executor or trustee of the trust.


A revocable living trust is set up when you are still well and able to manage your own affairs.  This allows you to manage your assets in your name as long as you are able.  If you desire, it can be undone or changed.


You would name a “successor trustee” who will take over managing the assets if you become too unwell or pass away.


This type of trust allows you to avoid the time and expense of probate and ensures the privacy of your estate.


In Summary

You can avoid added stress, cost, and time for you and your family members in an already difficult situation. All it takes is having a few specific legal documents in order.


There are legal documents every senior should have in order before you need them. Doing this will ensure that your family members and medical providers know how to make decisions and meet your wishes if you’re unable to speak for yourself.