Real Estate Closings, Wills & Trusts, and Business Formation
Call Today for Your Free Case Evaluation 352.377.6600

5 Essential Legal Documents You Need for Incapacity Planning

Comprehensive estate planning involves more than just planning for your legacy after your

death, avoiding probate, and reducing taxes. Good estate planning also appoints people to

make legal, financial, and medical decisions for you if you are alive but unable to make those

decisions for yourself (in other words, if you are incapacitated).

What happens without a plan for incapacity?

Without a comprehensive plan for your incapacity, your family will have to go to court to have a

judge appoint a guardian and conservator to make healthcare decisions for you and manage

your money and property. A guardian will make all personal and medical decisions on your

behalf as part of a court-supervised guardianship. A conservator will make all financial and legal

decisions on your behalf as part of a court-supervised conservatorship. These roles may be

filled by the same person or by two different people, depending on the circumstances. Keep in

mind that the court may not appoint the person or people for these roles that you would have

chosen. Until you regain capacity or pass away, you and your loved ones will have to endure

expensive, public, and time-consuming court proceedings, which may include filing annual

reports and obtaining prior judicial approval for certain actions.

Overall, there are two aspects of incapacity planning that must be considered: financial and


● Finances during incapacity. If you are incapacitated, you are legally unable to make

financial, investment, or tax decisions for yourself, but your bills still need to be paid, tax

returns still need to be filed, and investments still need to be managed.

● Healthcare during incapacity. If you are unable to communicate (for example, if you

are in a coma or under anesthesia), you will not be able to make healthcare decisions for

yourself. Without a plan, your loved ones may even be denied access to your medical

information during a medical emergency. They may also end up in court, fighting over

what medical treatment you should or should not receive (like in the case of Terri

Schiavo, whose husband and parents did for 15 years).

To avoid these problems, you should have these five essential legal documents in place before

becoming incapacitated so that your loved ones are empowered to make decisions for you:

1. Durable financial power of attorney. A financial power of attorney is a legal document that

gives your trusted decision-maker (the agent) the authority to pay bills, make financial

decisions, manage investments, file tax returns, mortgage and sell real estate, and

address other financial matters for you that are described in the document.

2. Revocable living trust. A revocable living trust is a legal document that has three

parties to it: the person who creates the trust (also known as the trustmaker); the person

who legally owns and manages the accounts and property transferred into the trust (the

trustee); and the person who benefits from the accounts and property transferred into

the trust (the beneficiary). In the typical situation, you will be the trustmaker, the trustee,

and the beneficiary of your revocable living trust while you are alive. If you ever become

incapacitated, your designated backup trustee will step in to manage the trust’s accounts

and property for your benefit. The terms of the trust that you create will specify how the

trust’s accounts and property are to be used (for example, you can authorize the trustee

to continue to make gifts to charities or pay tuition for your grandchildren).

3. Medical power of attorney. A medical power of attorney, also called a medical proxy,

healthcare proxy, designation of healthcare surrogate, or a patient advocate designation,

allows you to name a person (your agent) to make medical decisions on your behalf

when you cannot communicate them yourself.

4. Advanced directive or living will. An advance directive or living will shares your

wishes regarding end-of-life care if you become incapacitated. Although a living will is

not necessarily enforceable in all states, it can provide meaningful information about

your desires—even if it is not strictly enforceable.

5. HIPAA authorization. A Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act

authorization gives your doctor authority to disclose medical information to the people

you name in the document. This is important because health privacy laws may make it

very difficult for family members or loved ones to learn about your condition without this

release. While this document does not give a person authority to make medical

decisions, it can help alleviate tensions by keeping everyone on the same page

concerning your condition.

Is your incapacity plan up to date?

Once you create all of these legal documents for your incapacity plan, you cannot simply stick

them in a drawer and forget about them. Instead, you must update and review your incapacity

plan periodically and when major life events occur, such as moving to a new state or getting

divorced. If you keep your incapacity plan up-to-date and make the documents available to your

loved ones and trusted helpers, it should work the way you expect it to if needed. If you need to

create or update your incapacity plan, please give us a call at 352-377-6600 or schedule a free

consultation on our website at .