Wills, Powers of Attorney, Health Care Directives, and Proxies (Living Wills)
Individuals and families who deal proactively with decision-making structures in the event of their death or incapacitation are ensuring their own wishes will be fulfilled, and are providing peace of mind for their loved ones. Good planning can prevent potential legal complications and additional expenses. We provide the legal expertise needed to ensure appropriate arrangements are in place.
Wills are extremely important documents that direct how an individual’s assets will be distributed after their death. Ideally, all competent adults should have a will, but certainly a will should be in place as soon as an individual accumulates any wealth or property that he or she wishes to give away on death, and particularly after marriage, after establishing a common-law relationship or after the arrival of children. Passing away without a will (dying intestate) can result in considerable extra expense and inconvenience to your loved ones. Dying intestate involves a rigid statutory distribution plan that may lead to undesirable and unintended results, becoming a source of unhappiness for your surviving loved ones, particularly in more complex family situations.
An enduring power of attorney, the most commonly recommended type of power of attorney (POA), is comparable to an insurance policy in that one hopes never to have to rely on it, but should circumstances require, having the document already in place can significantly simplify an already difficult situation. An enduring POA enables a person or persons of your choosing to handle your financial affairs in the event you become permanently or temporarily mentally or physically incapacitated. Where an individual loses capacity, an enduring POA can prevent costly and time consuming court procedures. POAs can serve in a number of different situations, and can be limited in scope, duration or purpose.
Health care directives, often referred to as living wills, ensure that your wishes for medical treatment will be followed should you lose the ability to make those decisions. They also provide assurance to your loved ones that decisions made on your behalf are made in accordance with your wishes. Health care directives are particularly useful and will be determinative where family members disagree on care decisions.
Health care proxies often accompany health care directives. A health care proxy enables a person or persons of your choice to make medical treatment decisions for you if you lose the ability to do so yourself. In making such decisions, the proxy is required to follow the directions set out in your health care directive.
Depending upon the size and makeup of an estate, it may be necessary for a will to be probated (proven through a court application). In the absence of a will (an intestacy), a somewhat more complicated court application may need to be made giving authority for someone to administer the assets of the estate. The makeup of some estates may mean that court involvement is not required, such as in cases where major assets are jointly owned with a surviving spouse. In either case, there are various estate administration steps that are required.
It is important for the executor or the estate administrator to obtain legal assistance in order to navigate effectively through the various responsibilities which the law imposes. As lawyers, it is our job to ensure that the personal representative receives the degree of guidance that person may require. Ultimately, our job is to ensure that the beneficiaries of the estate receive what they are entitled to receive and that the personal representative is appropriately protected throughout.