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Get a durable power of attorney and advance medical directive

When it comes to estate planning documents, most District of Columbia residents immediately think of wills and trust. Where it is true that these documents are an integral part of any estate plan, they are not the only documents every resident needs. A durable power of attorney and advance medical directive are crucial in the event that an individual becomes unable to make financial and/or health care decisions alone.

A durable power of attorney appoints someone that the individual trusts to deal with a portion or all of his or her financial affairs. This document can give the appointed agent broad or limited powers depending on the individual's comfort level. For instance, the agent may be able to sell property, but only under certain conditions.

An advance medical directive not only outlines what life-saving measures and treatments a person does or does not want, but it also appoints another person to make health care decisions that are not covered by the living will portion of the directive. The living will provides the agent and medical professionals with certain guidelines when the individual is incapacitated and cannot speak for him- or herself. This document is crucial for family members who would otherwise have to struggle with determining what their loved one would have wanted under the circumstances.

A District of Columbia resident has the freedom to appoint different people in each estate-planning document. If a particular person is better with financial affairs, that person can be named in the durable power of attorney. A different person who shares similar beliefs regarding end-of-life care may be appointed in the advance medical directive. Without these documents, a person's wishes may not be carried out -- if they are even known. In addition, these documents will reduce potential confrontations among family members since the decisions are already made.

Source: MarketWatch, "Review your estate plan against this 14-point checklist", Art Koff, July 20, 2015

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