Planning For Disability: The Essential Legal Documents

As important as estate planning is, many people put it off from the sheer discomfort of thinking about death. Even more difficult is the idea that something catastrophic might happen that does not result in death, but causes incapacity or disability for the rest of life. But if you are seriously injured or ill and can’t make your own business or medical decisions, who’s in charge? The court is, if you fail to plan ahead for a worst-case scenario. Texas law provides a priority list that the court uses to designate these decision makers — and they may not be the people you want to decide your fate or the fate of your affairs.

To protect yourself, you need these legal documents:

  • Durable Power of Attorney — Grants the authority to make legal and financial decisions on your behalf in the event that you are unable to do so. A properly drafted power of attorney can save your loved ones the stress and expense of going to court.
  • Medical Power of Attorney — Also known as a “health care proxy,” this document names the person or persons to make medical decisions for you. The medical power of attorney grants the power to make a broad range of health care decisions, usually spelled out in the document. Best practice is to discuss your wishes in advance with the person you designate to be sure that he or she is willing and able to make potentially difficult decisions.
  • Living Will — Sometimes called an “advance directive,” this document states your wishes concerning end-of-life treatment and artificial life support. You may have addressed life-prolonging measures in your Medical Power of Attorney, but a separate document makes your wishes very clear to your physicians and your loved ones. Without a directive, Texas law requires family members to made a decision about life support based on what they know about your wishes. Needless to say, such a situation can be quite traumatic.
  • HIPPA Authorization — Names individuals who have access to your medical information and records. This is particularly crucial if you wish to allow someone other than your next-of-kin to be informed of your health status.
  • Declaration of Guardian — Designates who will be guardian of you and your estate in case you are incapacitated. This document is also necessary if you have minor children and wish to name the individual(s) who will care for them if you cannot. Texas law regarding guardianship is very specific, so you will need an attorney’s help to prepare and file this document.

The process of thinking through these decision can be daunting, but taking the time to do so will ease the burden for those close to you in the future.

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