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Powers of attorney in every estate plan? Better safe than sorry

What do I need to include in my estate plan? This is a question that many of our Michigan readers will be asking themselves at some point when they begin the process of putting together the necessary documents for their unique situations. Every estate plan is different. Does everyone need to use some kind of trust in their estate plan? Not necessarily, though trusts are great for fulfilling certain needs. However, almost without exception, two important documents that need to be included in a Michigan resident's estate plan are a durable power of attorney and a health care power of attorney.

When many people think of estate planning they think of laying the groundwork for the distribution of their assets after death. While this is a crucial part of the process, a good, comprehensive estate plan will cover other situations as well. If a person becomes incapacitated in some way - but does not die - that is a situation when powers of attorney come into play.

A durable power of attorney will give a trusted friend, relative or associate the power to control a person's finances during a period of incapacitation. This can be a very important role to fill in order to ensure that the person's bills are paid, businesses run or portfolios managed while the person is unable to tend to these financial concerns.

A health care power of attorney allows a person to appoint a patient advocate to make important decisions regarding medical care for an incapacitated person. This can be a truly solemn commitment for the patient advocate. And, as a recent article pointed out, the best way to prepare someone to take on this role is to discuss those types of medical procedures a person is in favor of, as well as those which are unwanted.

Estate planning forces a person to confront many different hypothetical scenarios and set out a plan of action in each case, to the greatest extent possible. Not every situation can be anticipated exactly, and in many ways the powers of attorney documents substitute the judgment of a trusted colleague for the planner's judgment in a time of great need.

Source: The Wichita Eagle, "Learn lesson about end-of-life planning," Bill Hendry, April 7, 2013

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