What legal paperwork for parents is necessary besides a will?

Heidi asked...

What legal documents do you need besides a will when putting together the legal paperwork for parents?

Expert Answer

Each parent should have an advance health care directive. In some states, these are two separate documents: a medical directive (also called a living will) setting out your parent's wishes regarding medical care, and a durable power of attorney for health care which names someone to make medical decisions when your parent is unable to. In other states, the two parts are included in a single medical directive document.

The 1996 Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) provides great privacy for a person's medical records, even limiting what a doctor can say about them. So, to make their power of attorney for health care more effective, your parents should also execute a document – called a HIPAA "release" -- that specifically grants the right to see their medical records.

At some point late in life, your parents may want to specify that if they stop breathing, they don't want to be revived. This choice can be set down in a Do-Not-Resuscitate (DNR) order that should be posted prominently in their house.

As your parents get older, they may have trouble handling financial matters. If so, they can execute a power of attorney for finances that gives you or another family member the legal right to act on your parent's behalf in some or all of their financial affairs. The power of attorney for finances should be specified as "durable," which means it continues in effect if and when your parent becomes incapacitated.

If your parents have substantial assets that would require their estate to go through probate (each state sets the probate amount), they may also want to consider creating a revocable living trust. This distributes their property upon death, like a will, but does so without the need for probate paperwork and court proceedings.