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Important facts regarding powers of attorney and living wills

When you hear the word wills within the context of estate planning or elder law matters, do you automatically think of property, assets and inheritance? If so, you're likely not alone as asset distribution is commonly associated with wills. However, if you're one of many Illinois residents helping an elderly parent execute an estate plan, you'll definitely want to make sure your mother or father knows that there are different types of wills and that it's crucial to understand the differences before putting anything in writing.

If you're relatively unfamiliar with estate planning documents, it may help to do some research on the topic, as well as to talk to others who have already navigated the process so you can obtain as much information as possible as you help your aging loved one prepare for the future.

What a living will is and is not

If you hear the term "living will" and think it has something to do with naming people to inherit your property or other assets, you'd be mistaken. It's not uncommon, however, for people to confuse living wills with final will and testaments. The following list of information may help distinguish one from the other:

  • A living will does not have anything to do with property distribution.
  • If you're parent wants to sign a living will, it means he or she wants you to know what type of care is desired in case a situation results in incapacitation and the inability to speak on his or her own behalf.
  • When someone executes a living will, the instructions therein may be general or quite specific.
  • Your parent may also want to sign a power of attorney, especially if his or her living will is written in very general terms.

If you're acting as a health care agent on behalf of your parent, a signed living will would undoubtedly help you ensure that doctors and other medical professionals are acting in accordance with your parent's wishes.

What about powers of attorney?

You can obtain different powers of attorney to make important decisions on behalf of your mother or father when necessary. One particular power of attorney might pertain to health care decisions while another might allow you to make financial decisions. Here are other key facts regarding these types of documents:

  • A power of attorney becomes effective only if your parent can no longer act in his or her own right.
  • Your mother or father must be of sound mind when signing a power of attorney or any other estate planning document.
  • Upon death of the signature party, a health care power of attorney is nullified.

Your parent may also terminate a power of attorney while still living so long as he or she is of sound mind at the time. It often happens that significant challenges arise while caring for aging parents. If you have a solid estate plan to go on, many challenges may be more easily overcome. There is also an elder law support network available in Illinois that you can access if you need help rectifying a particular problem.

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Leonard F. Berg, Attorney at Law