Five Must-Have Legal Documents

No two financial situations are exactly the same, and yet virtually every adult should have certain legal documents in place. In this post, we’re listing five important types of legal documents, along with the reasons they’re important to strategically complete.

Guardianship Documents

If you have young children or children who aren’t yet legal adults, it’s crucial that you legally document who should finish raising them and make key decisions about their health, education and more if you no longer can. You may have already thought about who would be the best guardian for them, long-term, such as a sister who lives in another state. You’ll also then need to list who should care for your children in the short-term, perhaps right after your death, before arrangements could be made for your sister to get them. After creating this guardianship document, keep the highlights of this information in your wallet and write out detailed instructions to help the person or people to whom you’d entrust your children.

Here are tips on choosing the best guardian for your child.

Health Care Power of Attorney

No one plans to become sick, but people of all ages can become too ill to make their own medical and health care decisions. The health care power of attorney document allows you to choose whom you’d like to have as your representative if you are unable to communicate or make your own medical decisions. Clearly, you need this person to be a responsible one, someone who will honor your wishes as best as circumstances allow.

Don’t confuse this document with a living will (more about that later). The living will is applicable only when a person is determined to be permanently unconscious, terminally ill, or seriously incapacitated by another similar reason as provided for by laws in your state. If you are temporarily unconscious or otherwise temporarily unable to communicate, then the person you designate in your living will cannot make health care decisions for you. For that, you need a medical power of attorney.

Financial Power of Attorney

If you are unable to manage your own financial needs, perhaps because you’re hospitalized, a financial power of attorney allows your designated person to make financial and legal decisions for you. He or she can access your bank accounts, pay your bills and more. Once again, this is a crucial document to complete and sign, after carefully selecting the right person. This document is important for everyone to have, and even more so if you have children or are a caretaker for other people.

With this document, carefully consider when you want it to go into effect. Maybe you always want your spouse to be able to manage your financial and legal affairs; if so, make sure that you designate this power of attorney to be “durable” so it won’t stop being in effect if/when you become incapacitated. Conversely, you can create a document that only goes into effect when you become incapacitated.

Living Will

A living will is an advance directive that allows people to share their wishes for medical care when entering the end stage of their lives. This allows doctors and hospitals to know how to proceed after someone can no longer communicate his or her wishes. This document also helps family members to be clear about what, exactly, a loved one’s end-of-life wishes are. Without this document, doctors and family members are left in the precarious position of needing to guess preferences. When people disagree, the situation can get contentious, even to the point of becoming a matter for courts to decide.

Many people desire to have palliative care, which means that if they are in pain, doctors can take measures to reduce and manage symptoms and suffering. A bigger question when creating a living will, typically, is whether or not you want extraordinary measures taken. For example, if doctors determine you need CPR to be rescuitated, do you want that procedure to be performed?

Last Will and Testament

Finally, be sure to draft a will that specifies who should inherit your possessions, including your money, your home/other properties, furniture, jewelry and other possessions or assets. People who inherit are considered your beneficiaries, and you need to be very specific about what goes to whom. You will also need to carefully consider your choice of executor; this person will need to carry out the specifics of your will. You can choose to hire an attorney or a bank to perform these duties for a fee. If you are instead selecting a family member or friend, be clear about whether or not he or she will be compensated and, if so, how. Your will needs to be witnessed, with the specifics varying by state. Keep your will in a place that’s safe, but easily accessible by those who will need to have the document quickly after your death.

U.S. Legal Services Can Help!

The reality is that all adults benefit from four out of five of the types of legal documents described in this post, with parents benefitting from all five. State laws vary, though, and sometimes legal requirements can be confusing.

You can help your employees protect themselves and their families through a group legal plan. A voluntary group legal benefits plan allows your employees to effectively manage their legal issues, and stay focused on their work. This can lead to:

  • better job performance
  • less wasted time on the job
  • lower healthcare issues
  • less absenteeism
  • reduced stress
  • and more

Here, you can discover how a legal benefits plan can help you build a better workforce. If you have questions or are ready to get started, simply contact us online or email or call 1.800.356.LAWS today.