The Importance of Your Estate Planning Documents

Elderly couple reviewing estate planning documents

My name is Patty Hanson, I’m an aging life care professional, a licensed professional counselor, managing director and co-owner of IKOR of Western Pennsylvania. I’ve also created a brand of programs to support seniors and adults with disabilities called the solutions for dignity programs. 

Since 2011, I’ve been leading a team of registered nurse patient advocates, personal needs coordinators, and financial advocates as we navigate and support, life management services and advocacy needs of seniors, adults with disability and children with special needs. 

In this article, I’m going to talk to you about the importance of your estate planning documents.

I know that might seem unusual from someone who focuses on care, but you really do need to plan yours. In your estate planning council, you should always also prepare from a care perspective. 

Most people think that the most important estate planning document is your will. Yes, you need to have a will to determine what happens upon your death. But in my work day to day, I’m concerned with helping people to live well with dignity. And I find that when someone has not planned well for aging by completing a power of attorney, or a living will, their lives can become complicated and messy. 

When your family does not know your intentions, and they are unable to direct your care, that’s when many conflicts happen. Also, without these documents that have not been completed prior to a medical crisis, the next step in your care is very often precarious. 

Sometimes, people who have not prepared can end up in a guardianship. Guardianship is a legal process used to protect individuals who are unable to care for their own well being due to being incapacitated, or a disability. 

A court will appoint a legal guardian to care for an individual who needs special protection. This is when someone becomes a ward of the state. You can easily prevent guardianship by creating these essential documents. 

A power of attorney document is a legal document giving one person the power to act for another person. This provides your designated person broad or limited legal authority to make legal decisions about your property, finances and your medical care. And it is used in the event a person’s illness or disability prevents them from being able to sign necessary legal documents for financial transactions. 

Medical power of attorney is a legal document giving one person the authority to make tough decisions for you only if your doctor says that you were unable to make the decisions for yourself. 

Your living will is a document that outlines your wishes as they apply to both end of life treatment as well as other areas of medical care. And again, they’re only valid if you are unable to communicate your wishes. 

At IKOR, we also work with our clients to complete a document called the Five Wishes document. The Five Wishes document is a foundational document that details personal, emotional, and spiritual needs, as well as medical intentions if you become seriously ill. Numerous states, including Pennsylvania, uphold this document as a legal document. 

By working with your personal attorney to prepare these documents, you can provide very specific directions to your family and friends about your intention. Importantly for you, it does not leave them in the difficult position of making hard choices without knowing your intention. 

At IKOR, we will support seniors in any of these roles or we can assist your family members as they navigate these complex areas. We will also work with your attorney or financial professional to facilitate conversations around these documents. They handle the legal and financial areas and we support you with your care related needs, assuring dignity and quality of life throughout your lifespan. 

To learn more about how IKOR can help you with this proactive process, you can contact us toll free at 855-456-7972 or visit our website at www.ikorofwpa.com.

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