How to Make Sure Your Life Does Not
Become a Fractured Fairy Tale

This article uses fables to help explain why a Last Will and Testament, Living Will, and Powers of Attorney are important

Jack and Jill
(Why you need a Power of Attorney)

Jack and Jill owned a house together and lived as a couple for many years but they were not married. One day they went up a hill to fetch a pail of water. Jack fell down and broke his crown and Jill came tumbling after. What happened next? Jill wasn’t injured but Jack was rushed to the hospital. Jack was in a coma.

Jill went to visit Jack every day but Jack’s family didn’t let her see him. Jill became very lonely and missed Jack a lot. Why was Jack’s family able to keep Jill from visiting Jack? Jack and Jill considered themselves a couple but Georgia law didn’t recognize their relationship because they weren’t married. Thus, Jill had no legal right to see Jack.

Jack’s family told the doctor to treat Jack with chemical-based drugs. Jill knew Jack wouldn’t want to take chemical-based drugs. Why was Jack’s family able to give him treatment he wouldn’t want? Because Georgia law gave Jack’s family the power to make health care decisions for him when he couldn’t make his own decisions.

Jack started to get disability checks from work, but Jill wasn’t able to cash the checks. She couldn’t pay the mortgage and other bills because she didn’t have enough money.

How could Jack and Jill make sure these bad things don’t happen again? Jack and Jill could each sign a Durable Medical Power of Attorney for Healthcare . This document allows you to name someone you trust, such as a spouse or other family member, partner, or friend, to make health care decisions for you in case you can’t make the decisions yourself. This person is called your Agent . A Durable Medical Power of Attorney also gives your agent the right to visit you and to decide what to do with your body after you die.

Jack and Jill could also sign a Financial Power of Attorney . This document names an agent to handle your finances. With a Financial Power of Attorney, Jill could handle Jack’s finances and pay their bills. Your agent must be someone you trust. In some cases agents have abused their power and emptied bank accounts, sold houses, and taken out loans. In most cases the benefits are greater than the risks, but an agent’s abuse of a Financial Power of Attorney can cause you problems.

Humpty Dumpty
(Why you need a Living Will and a Last Will and Testament)

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall and had a big fall. All the King’s horses and all the King’s men couldn’t put Humpty together again. What happened next? Humpty was brain-damaged and hooked up to several machines to keep him alive.

Humpty had named his friend, Chicken Little, as his agent under a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care, so Chicken Little could visit Humpty and make health care decisions for him. The doctor asked Chicken Little whether Humpty should be kept alive by the machines. Chicken Little felt terrible. He couldn’t decide whether to "pull the plug" on Humpty. Fortunately, Humpty had signed a Living Will.

A Living Will speaks for you when you cannot speak for yourself. A Living Will is a document that tells your doctor and your agent what to do in case they need to decide whether you should get life-sustaining procedures. Life-sustaining procedures include things such as a respirator (a machine that breathes for you) and surgery. A Living Will states that you don’t want your life extended by life-sustaining procedures if there isn’t a reasonable chance your health will improve.

A Living Will also tells your doctor and agent whether you want to get nourishment and hydration. The Nourishment is usually food through a tube and the Hydration is usually water through a tube.

The day of Humpty’s funeral, Chicken Little went home to relax. He had moved into Humpty’s house seven years before and He and Humpty had lived together ever since. Humpty wanted Chicken Little to inherit all his property after he died.

Humpty’s parents did not like Chicken Little. They came to Humpty’s house and told Chicken Little to pack his things and leave. Chicken Little had no legal right to keep the house. Even though Humpty had a Durable Medical Power of Attorney for Healthcare and a Living Will, he never signed a Last Will and Testament.

In a Last Will and Testament you name someone who gets your property after you die. In Georgia, if you die without a Last Will and Testament your property will go to your family. You should ask a lawyer whether you need a Last Will and Testament.

A Last Will and Testament is not your only option. You should talk to a lawyer about other options such as a Deed with Right of Survivorship, a Partnership Agreement, and a Trust, for example. Under a Deed with Right of Survivorship Humpty and Chicken Little would own the house together and when one of them died the house would belong to the other one. A Deed with Right of Survivorship wouldn’t give away any of Humpty’s property such as furniture and household items. Humpty and Chicken Little could also have signed a Partnership Agreement . In a partnership agreement you can specify who gets property when the partnership ends. Humpty could have put his property in a Trust and set up the trust to be used for Chicken Little. A trust puts property aside so it can be used for someone you name. A person or company known as a Trustee manages a trust.

The Moral of the Stories

There are many legal documents that let you take control of your life. You can choose what will happen to you and your property. Sometimes these documents are not necessary. Other times, the only way to make sure that your wishes are followed is to sign some of these documents.

SOURCE: Atlanta Legal Aid