Estate planning should include a plan for incapacity

Wills and trusts are some of the most common estate planning documents. Equally critical, though sometimes less talked about, is the importance of addressing incapacity in your estate plan. If you suffer an illness, injury or disability that renders you unable to make decisions as you were once able to, most people still want to have a say over such critical areas as their health and finances. By having an advance directive and durable powers of attorney in place, you can protect your best interests and plan for these contingencies.

Advance directives

On July 1, 2007, the Georgia Advance Directive for Healthcare took the place of the Living Will and the Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare, and in effect, combined these two documents' functions, while also addressing new areas and expanding individuals' control over their healthcare decisions. It is a good idea to execute the new document, even if you have the earlier documents in place.

The Georgia Advance Directive for Healthcare allows you the right to accept and refuse certain procedures and treatments-such as artificial nutrition, hydration (IV fluids), kidney dialysis and ventilators-that are intended to extend life if you have a terminal illnesses or are in a persistent vegetative state. In addition, you can designate an agent to communicate your health care wishes and act on your behalf in the event you are unable to communicate your wishes directly.

Without an advance directive for healthcare executed, your family and doctors cannot necessarily know and comply with your wishes regarding your end of life care. Medical decisions in this case would fall to your next of kin, based on Georgia's "next-of-kin" law. An advance directive for health care takes takes precedence over this law.

Durable powers of attorney

Your estate plan should also address how your finances would be managed in the event you become incapacitated. With a durable power of attorney, you designate someone, an "agent," to handle such areas as banking transactions, tax matters, real estate transactions as well as personal property, retirement plans, life insurance and stocks on your behalf. You specify the limits of these responsibilities, though the agent does need a certain amount of authority to act on your behalf.

An experienced estate planning attorney can work with you to ensure you have the necessary documents in place to protect your best interests. Contact the Estate Planning Law Group of Georgia, James M. Miskell P.C. to learn more about your options.

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