Legal Resolutions for the New Year

Set achievable goals for 2015 by vowing to update your legal documents and put proper planning in place. It’s important for an experienced elder law attorney to review your planning every 3-5 years, as personal circumstances, state laws, and the nature of your assets may change over time.

While every person has unique estate planning needs, we recommend that our clients have the following five basic documents: a will, a health care power of attorney, a general durable power of attorney, a HIPAA compliant medical release, and an advanced directive for natural death. Many clients can also benefit from trust planning.

A will ensures that your property will pass the way that you intend at death. Our state has a statutory scheme mandating who inherits your property at death if you die without a will. Generally, our clients wish to leave their property to their spouses at death. However, under North Carolina law, your property may be divided among your spouse, children, and even your parents if you die without a will. Execute a valid will to ensure that your property passes to whom you want, the way you want, and how you want.

Powers of attorney allow you to appoint a trusted agent to make decisions for you in the event of a disability. With a general durable power of attorney, you can appoint an agent to make financial decisions for you in the event that you can no longer do so yourself. As you get older, you may require a stronger financial power of attorney for long term care planning. Many attorneys draft short form powers of attorney that limit the powers given to your agent. These limited documents may impede planning in the event of a crisis. At W.G. Alexander and Associates, we draft a much stronger power of attorney that provides your agent with every authority required for government benefits planning. Much like a general durable power of attorney, a health care power of attorney allows you to appoint an agent to make health care decisions. Choosing your agents in advance will allow you to maintain control in the event of a disability.

A HIPAA compliant medical release allows your family to access your medical records when you cannot consent to their release. While you generally sign a medical release when you enter the hospital, there may come a time when you are unconscious and unable to do so. By executing a medical release in advance, you can ensure that your loved ones will have access to information about your medical condition in the event of an emergency.

An advanced directive states that you wish for a natural death; it indicates to your doctor that you no longer wish to be kept alive artificially in certain terminal situations. Not everyone wishes to execute this type of document, but most people want it, and it is helpful if you desire it.

Lastly, an experienced attorney can help you review your beneficiary designations for those assets that pass outside of your will. This includes your retirement accounts, life insurance policies, etc. Make sure that your beneficiaries are up to date. Otherwise, you may leave your assets to those that you do not intend (such as a former spouse or to your estate).

If you or your loved ones have questions about basic documents, consider W.G. Alexander & Associates – we are experienced attorneys who offer a unique blend of asset protection, Elder Law and estate planning. You can also attend our free seminars, learn more through our website at, or call us at (919) 256-7000.

Attorney Bill Alexander discusses these issues and more every Tuesday morning on W.G. Alexander & Associates’ radio program, “Asset Protection Today,” on TalkRadio 850 WPTK (AM). Be sure to listen from 9:00-10:00 AM.