There are many ways that family law and estate planning intersect. When creating your estate plan, you first concern is usually to take care of your family and ensure that they are not burdened with unnecessary fees while grieving. Two ways that your family can be involved are in the decisions to assign powers of attorney and in helping make sure you outline your medical wishes in a medical directive.
Unmarried or in a Domestic Partnership?
Many domestic partnerships and couples who are unmarried are not usually allowed to make medical decisions for one another. If you have an emergency situation that renders you unable to make decisions and you want to ensure your partner can advocate on your behalf, then you must create at least two documents:
1. Advance Health Care Directive: a document that outlines your wishes for medical treatment and healthcare and assigns a durable power of attorney. Name your significant other/partner.
2. Name your partner as a durable power of attorney for finances.
If your partner is not names, then biological family will be put in charge of these affairs and may or may not disclude your partner from any decisions. It is important to name them if you wish to have them advocate for your best interests.
Assigning Powers of Attorney
A power of attorney is a document that appoints a person to act as an agent and make financial decisions on your behalf while you are living, but are unable to make these decisions yourself. You can specify a person or persons to help make financial decisions or ensure a medical care directive is met.
Depending on your circumstances, you should choose the best person to meet your individual needs. If you live in a state where there are different types of Powers of Attorney, siblings may be able to separate duties. Sometimes, this means assigning duties to family members. Depending on your state’s rules, multiple people can be appointed, but that can make proceedings difficult when they get into arguments over decisions.
Following an Advance Health Care Directive or a Living Will
Assert your legal right to choose your own path of healthcare and medical treatment by creating an Advance Health Care Directive, or Living Will. A directive will give you control over some aspects of end-of-life care by specifying treatments you want and others you would like to forego. Some decisions include but are not limited to:
- Organ Donation
- Surgical Procedures
- Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation
- Palliative Care/Pain Management
These decisions can seem sad and difficult, even if you are dealing with them long before they will be put into use. However, if you are unmarried, in a domestic partnership, or wish to assign these responsibilities to family members other than your spouse or children, then now is the time to plan. If you are ready to make a decision about your future that includes the input of family and loved ones, contact an estate planning lawyer today to ensure that they have a role in your end-of-life decisions.
Thanks to our friends and contributors from Sweeney Legal for their insight into family law and estate planning.