What is an advance directive? What advance directives should I have?

Estate planning worksheet for writing a willThe term “estate planning” conjures up images of wills and inheritances. Often some of the most important estate planning documents, advance directives, is overlooked—and all too often that oversight can have negative consequences when you need them the most.

What is an advance directive?

When an incident happens that incapacitates you—an accident, illness, mental affliction, etc.—-your family is not automatically authorized to make legal decisions in Wisconsin.  Advance directives are forms that give legal authorization and instructions on your financial and health care decisions.

Why should I include advance directives as part of my estate planning?

Wisconsin is not a “next of kin” or “family consent” state.  If an emergency happens and you cannot express your wishes for your assets or care, advance directives do that legally for you.  For that reason, advance directives are a very important component of any estate plan; they are also helpful to a person’s family because guardianship proceedings can be more lengthy, costly, stressful and public then advance directives.  Because of these documents are legally binding, it makes sense to consult an attorney as part of your efforts to complete a legally-binding estate plan.

What advance directives do I need?

Power of Attorney for Finance and Property

This document is one of four directives authorized by statute in Wisconsin. The Power of Attorney for Finance and Property designates another person to make legal and financial decisions when you can’t.  As your document with your expressed wishes, you can limit those powers or grant a broad breadth to the “agent” (that person) you choose.  Some examples of matters your agent can deal with on your behalf include finances, insurance policies, government benefits, taxes, bank and retirement accounts.

Power of Attorney for Health Care & Declaration to Physicians

These directives both deal with health care decisions when you can’t; the Declaration to Physicians is much more limited in scope.  The Declaration to Physicians document states any preferences you may have regarding treatment or any life-saving measures you would like taken (or not taken) in the event of a medical emergency.  Examples of situations where a Declaration to Physician document would be used is if you are in a permanent vegetative state, unconscious, or in a coma.  In your Power of Attorney for Health Care, you designate an agent (this can be a different party than the agent in your Power of Attorney for Finance and Property) to make decisions about your health care when you are incapacitated.

Authorization for Final Disposition

This document designates a person to make funeral arrangements when you die.  This advance directive is also the appropriate document where you can explain your preferences for your disposition and funeral service.  Put simply, this is your chance to detail what you want (and don’t want) after you pass on, and who you trust to carry out those wishes.

Advance directives are relatively inexpensive to create, especially when compared to the alternative proceedings that need to take place if those documents are not on record. Contact a local experienced attorney to get your estate planning started and finished just in case you ever need it.

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