ALP: What documents are essential to a complete estate plan?

January 2006

Will, Durable Financial Power of Attorney, Health Care Power of Attorney, Living Will Declaration, Authorization to Disclose Protected Health Information, and possibly a Trust, are all essential to a well-drafted estate plan.

A Will is the foundation of an estate plan as it governs the disposition of an individual’s property at his or her death.  A Will also names an Executor, a Guardian for any minor children, and may waive the bond required of an Executor and Guardian. 

A Durable Financial Power of Attorney (“POA”) is a written instrument in which an individual authorizes another individual to transact business on one’s behalf.  A POA is typically phrased in broad terms to permit the designated individual to conduct any and all business on the other’s behalf, but can be narrowly tailored to satisfy one’s objectives.  A POA may avoid the necessity of establishing a probate court guardianship if the individual becomes incapacitated and unable to manage his or her financial affairs.

A Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care authorizes another to make medical decisions for the individual in the event he or she becomes incapacitated or incompetent.  The Power of Attorney for Health Care is typically very broad, and gives the agent the authority to make almost every decision the patient could make concerning his or her medical care and treatment, if he or she was competent. 

A Living Will Declaration operates as a directive to one’s doctor setting forth one’s wishes with respect to life-sustaining treatment in the event one becomes terminally ill or permanently unconscious and such life-sustaining treatment is not providing comfort or alleviating pain.

An Authorization to Disclose Protected Health Information serves to assure health care providers that they can disclose a patient’s health information to the individuals named in the document. 

Finally, a Trust can serve a variety of purposes from protecting one’s privacy to saving Ohio and Federal estate taxes.  While every individual does not need a trust, the advantages of having a trust should be considered in light of the individual’s assets and objectives.