Get Your Green On

12 Months to a Better Financial Foundation—Step 10: Check your Legal Documents

As part of your year-long quest to a better financial foundation, now is a good time to review legal documents that you should have in place in case of emergency. A will, power of attorney, and living will or healthcare directive are important documents that provide legal, financial, and medical guidance to your loved ones in the event you are unable to express your wishes. These documents may be especially important if you have substantial assets, are in a committed relationship but not married, and/or have dependents that you care for.

Typically, these documents are developed with the help of an attorney (including online legal services) and may be purchased as a package deal for as little as couple hundred dollars. However, some of the individual documents can be found online and completed yourself at no cost to you. Learn more below.

Your will (sometimes called a “will and last testament”) is a document that declares how you want your assets to be distributed after your death. Assets may include your home or other real estate you own, savings and investment accounts, and personal property such as jewelry and vehicles. If you have minor children or other legal dependents, your will also designates who will take custody of them after your death. Your will may also include your wishes surrounding funeral and burial arrangements. If you are legally married or in a committed relationship, you may want to have your spouse or partner complete a will at the same time. If you die without a will, your assets will be distributed according to the laws of the state where you live.

Power of Attorney (POA)
A power of attorney (POA) allows others to make designated legal and financial decisions on your behalf when you are unable to do so. Having an assigned POA is especially important if you are planning to travel overseas for an extended period of time or anticipating prolonged health challenges. A POA allows your designated representative to take action quickly without legal delays.

Some state governments provide free POA forms online. Check your state’s attorney general, department of revenue, or department of licensing websites. Review instructions to see if the document(s) must be notarized or otherwise witnessed and follow directions carefully.

Living Will / Healthcare Directive
A living will or healthcare directive provides your family and healthcare providers guidance on your wishes when you are no longer able to make decisions for yourself. A living will designates which specific medical actions should or should not be taken to save your life. This document may or may not also include other medical directives (such as donation of anatomical gifts) and designation of a medical power of attorney. You may want to consider completing one of these documents before a schedule invasive medical procedure.

Free health care directive forms can be found online at the Washington State Dep’t of Social & Health Services. Forms for other states can be found online at most states’ attorney general’s or health department website.

This content is intended to be information only and does not constitute legal advice. Consult a licensed attorney to decide which documents may be of use to you and to develop legally binding documents.