Beyond Wills and Trusts:  3 Documents Everyone Needs


When it comes to estate planning, you might only think of wills and trusts. But there are three other estate planning documents you should think about to make your plan complete:

  1. Healthcare Power of Attorney

  2. General Power of Attorney

  3. HIPAA Waiver

Planning for Medical Emergencies with a Healthcare Power of Attorney & HIPAA Waiver

Having the right legal documents in place in case of a medical emergency is essential to providing a family member or trusted friend with guidance and decision-making authority during a difficult time. A Healthcare Power of Attorney allows you to choose a trusted family member or friend (called your “agent”) who will be responsible for making healthcare decisions, both end-of-life decisions as well as those that might occur before then, if you lose the ability to make them for yourself. A Healthcare Power of Attorney also allows your agent to access your protected healthcare and other info. But, a Healthcare Power of Attorney dies when you die. What if your family needs to access this protected info after your death? A HIPAA Waiver can allow your family access to this info well beyond your death and, without one, it’s possible your family may have to spend a considerable amount of money and time going to court to get access. For this reason, as well as others that would take more time to discuss, we at Hamrick Law believe clients should always have a HIPAA Waiver.

Don’t End Up Like Terri Schiavo

One of the well-known cases that highlights the need for a medical emergency plan is that of Terri Schiavo, a 26-year old Florida woman who collapsed and fell into a coma in February of 1990. Ms. Schiavo didn’t have any Healthcare Directives, and as a result was kept alive for 15 years while her husband and parents fought in court over taking her off life support. Finally, in March 2005, a Florida court ordered removal of Ms. Schiavo’s feeding tube. She died 13 days later - and the autopsy proved that she had been in a persistent vegetative state since she collapsed 15 years earlier. While the Schiavo case is an extreme one, it emphasizes the fact that without a medical emergency plan, your family members may be left to guess (or possibly fight) about your medical treatment and end-of-life wishes. But, it doesn’t have to be that way. Healthcare Directives can make your wishes known and legally enforceable. If you haven’t reviewed your healthcare documents in the last year, now is the time to make sure they reflect your current wishes. Call us today if you have any questions about health care decisions and how to best communicate them to your loved ones.

General Power of Attorney for Finances & Miscellaneous Matters

A General Power of Attorney allows you to select a trusted family member or friend who will be responsible for managing your money and other property, and also gives them the ability to handle miscellaneous issues if you become mentally incompetent. Without this document, bank and investment accounts held in your name will become inaccessible, IRA distributions can’t be requested, bills might not get paid, tax returns won’t be filed, and property can’t be bought or sold. Instead, a loved one may be forced into court to be appointed as your legal representative, and a judge will oversee that person’s every move, a process that also can be expensive and time consuming.

Caution: Powers of Attorney Can Become Obsolete!

The General Power of Attorney law changed in 2017 making it much more likely than before that a General Power of Attorney will be accepted by a 3rd party. But this law only applies to powers of attorney signed January 1, 2017 and after! Therefore, many institutions might not accept one signed before 2017. Depending on your circumstances, an older power of attorney may not be able to help you and your family with issues like:

  • Insurance contracts – life, disability, long term care, property and casualty

  • Annuities

  • Retirement plans – IRAs, 401(k)s, 403(b)s, etc.

  • Bank Accounts

  • Investment Accounts

  • Online personal accounts such as email, Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn

  • Elder care and special needs planning

If it’s been more than a few years (and especially prior to 2017) since you’ve signed your power of attorney, it might be time for a fresh one. Call us – we can help make sure you and your family are fully protected.

A Good Estate Plan Needs Up-to-Date “Ancillary” Documents

In the estate planning community, Healthcare Directives and General Powers of Attorney are called “ancillary” documents. But don’t be fooled by the name – these documents are essential and should be updated as lives, finances, and laws change. Call us today with your questions; we’re always here to help!



Contact Hamrick Law in Greenville, SC for your estate planning needs, including Wills, Trusts, Powers of Attorney and much more!

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