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What papers do I need if I get sick or die?

I often get the question, “what are the most important papers that I need if I were to get sick and/or die.” Unfortunately many people avoid asking this question at all. It is very important that all persons have their affairs in order so if and when an unforeseen event (illness or untimely death ) occurs your family is not shouldered with the burden of guessing what you would want for yourself, your children and your estate. For most clients, I recommend four essential documents. These are: 1. last will and testament 2. durable power of attorney 3. living will 4. health care power of attorney A last will and testament is a document that designates who will inherit from you at the time of your death. If you do not have a last will and testament at the time of your death your property will not just “go to the State.” The state of Ohio has enacted the statute of Descent and Distribution which controls how your assets will be distributed at the time of your death if you do not have a will First to next of kin, then to the State only if there is not a relative). This statute can be found here If you have children, and do not have a will, the probate court would make the final determination as to who would gain guardianship over your children if they die without a parent or without a fit parent. Preferably you will have had a last will and testament that is prepared by an attorney to address both your property and minor children if and when you pass away. An experienced lawyer can craft a document that appropriately and accurately outlines how you would like your property allocated at the time of your death and if you have minor children to designate whom you would entrust to have guardianship over your children. A durable power of attorney is a document that gives another person the ability to act as your legal representative for you while you are alive. Most people utilize a power of attorney so that they may have another person perform acts for them such as banking, paying bills, renewing license registrations and talking with credit card companies. This is a very useful tool for elderly persons who have difficulty communicating and getting around to allow a family member or trusted person to help them with these things. It is important to remember that a durable power of attorney terminates by operation of law upon a person’s death or if that durable power of attorney is revoked by the person either verbally or in writing. If a person acts outside of the scope of a durable power of attorney they can be prosecuted and/or civil penalties could be imposed upon them. A health care power of attorney is a document that gives another person the ability to make medical decisions for you in the event that you are unable to make them for yourself. For instance if you are in a unconscious state, or because of injury or some other reason are unable to make good sound decisions, it allows for another person to consult with and make medical decisions on your behalf. It also allows your power of attorney to obtain medical records relating to you. A living will is a document that allows you to dictate what happens to you in the event you become permanently incapacitated or in a permanently unconscious state. Most people do not want to be placed on long-term artificial ventilation, hydration and nutrition. This document allows you to dictate in what circumstances artificial ventilation hydration and nutrition should be removed so that you are allowed to die naturally. It also lets the medical providers know which persons should be notified and given an opportunity to see you prior to the withdrawal of the artificial ventilation hydration and nutrition. The Ohio State Bar Association has prepared an informational page which outlines in more detailed information on living wills and a health care power of attorney. I believe it is vitally important for persons to take time to consider and have prepared these four essential documents. While they are difficult things to think about and difficult decisions need made, it is better to address these yourself than to have an untimely illness or death which then puts this burden on your family.

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