Each family has different needs and therefore needs an estate plan customized by an experienced estate planning attorney. However, regardless of income, assets, age, or other family circumstances, every complete estate plan must have the following five documents.
Healthcare Power of Attorney
This is a legal document where you appoint a decision make (your agent) to make medical decisions for you if you are unable to speak for yourself. Without this essential medical legal document, there is no "default" person who can make medical decisions on your behalf. Because this document only allows someone to make decisions for you that you could otherwise make yourself, it only remains in effect until the maker of the document dies.
Living Will (Advanced Directive)
The Living Will usually accompanies the Healthcare Power of Attorney. However, this document is where you express your affirmative decisions regarding end of life medical treatment, including what types of medical treatment you would or would not like to be administered to you.
Property/Financial Power of Attorney
The Property or Financial Power of Attorney document is used to appoint an agent to make legal and financial decisions for you, such as paying bills, signing checks, buying or selling a car, etc. Like the Healthcare Power of Attorney, there is no person with "default" authority to make these decisions for you if you do not have the proper documents in place. Also similar to the Healthcare Power of Attorney, the Property or Financial Power of Attorney is only valid until the document maker dies.
A HIPAA Release authorizes your doctors, hospitals, and other medical providers to release your confidential healthcare information to your spouse, your children, your healthcare decision makers, or anyone else you choose to be able to receive the information. Without a specific authorization to release the information, The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) protects your private information from being given to anyone (even your loved ones!).