I have clients who come to me from different economic backgrounds and in a variety of physical states following an accident. Many clients ask me if they should have any legal documents drawn up, now that they are disabled or incapacitated. The short answer is “yes.” In reality, you should have legal documents prepared, whether you have a lawsuit or not. However, if you are now in a position where you might collect a considerable amount of money due to your accident, it will even be more important.
These documents don’t have to be complicated and the process doesn’t have to be expensive. Our office can generally prepare these documents for you within a week.
The first document is a durable power of attorney. If you are in a relationship, it usually makes sense to name your partner. If not, pick a close relative or friend whom you trust. This document gives another person the right to manage your affairs if you become incapacitated.
Another mandatory document is a health care proxy, which gives someone the right to make medical decisions on your behalf.
Finally, you should have a will prepared. If you don’t prepare a will before your death, state law will determine who gets your property and, if you have children, a judge may decide who will raise them (and it may not be who you would have chosen). While people with enormous assets require complex estate planning, most folks don’t. Generally, if your assets are modest and you are under age 50, you can have a very simple will prepared that:
• leaves your property to the people and organizations you choose
• names a guardian to care for your minor children if you can’t
• names someone to manage property you leave to minor children
• names your executor, the person with authority to make sure that the terms of your will are carried out
As you grow older and acquire more property, such as a big settlement from your lawsuit, you may want to engage in more sophisticated planning. But for now, better to be safe than sorry.