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Sickness, Death and Dying – A Legal Primer

living will

Okay, so it may not be my most cheerful topic yet, but it certainly is important. Whether it is because of our family, our friends, or ourselves these are issues we are all going to have to face at some point (hopefully later rather than sooner). There are some important things you should know about these issues and some important steps you can (and should) take now.

One of the most common questions I’m asked in this regard is as follows: “I don’t really have a lot of stuff. Do I need a will?” In my opinion, I think everyone should have a will. If you die intestate (that’s fancy lawyer talk for “without a will”) Texas state law will determine who gets your property. But what if you have a special piece of jewelry or family bible that you wanted to go to someone in particular? Also, if you have children, how will you let those who survive you know who you want to take care of your kids? If you take the time to prepare a will now, you can address these issues and let your wishes be known.

Another consideration: It is often less expensive and time consuming to resolve an estate for which there exists a will. If you make a will you can appoint an “executor.” That is, someone you trust to take care of your business after you are gone. There are lots of good reasons to make a will. If you haven’t done so already, please do. Now. Really. (Put down the magazine, you can read the rest of this article later!)

Back? Okay, good. Now that you have your will, lets address a couple of other quick issues. Often times, people confuse the term “will” with the term “living will.” There is a difference between these documents. A will is a document you use to express your wishes about your estate when you pass. A living will (technically called an “Advance Directive”) is a document you would use to express whether or not you would like to be kept alive on life-sustaining machines if you terminally ill and unable to express your wishes. I often see people wait until they are somewhat older or have children before they bother with a will. Unfortunately, anyone can be struck down in a serious accident at any age. (Terri Schiavo collapsed at the age of 27 and was diagnosed with a persistent vegetative state.) It is especially important, therefore, to make sure that you prepare an Advance Directive no matter what your age.

As if these issues were not serious and complicated enough, I’ve got one more document I need to throw into the mix. How many of you have heard of a “Medical Power of Attorney?” A Medical Power of Attorney is a document used to grant very specific and limited power to a person you chose to make health care decisions on your behalf should be you become unable to do so. This document is different from a general or “durable” power of attorney which would allow someone to conduct business on your behalf. A Medical Power of Attorney only allows the person you designate to make medical decisions on your behalf, nothing else. Again, because accident or illness can strike at any age, it is important for everyone at any age to consider making this document.

I’m sorry to write such a bummer of an article about such a depressing topic during such a beautiful time of the year. These are important issues, however, and need to be considered. I promise I’ll write about something more cheerful next time!

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