Basics of Preparing Life-Planning Documents, A to Z

By Mary LeMieux-Fillery

There is value in the skills necessary to prepare and execute basic life planning documents, including simple wills, living wills and financial and health-care powers of attorney. The Barristers’ Association of Philadelphia, Inc. and SeniorLAW Center co-hosted a Philadelphia Bar Association CLE titled, “Life Planning for Philadelphia Seniors” on April 17. The program was a training for volunteers participating in the Barristers’ April 21 Annual Life Planning Clinic. The panelists were SeniorLAW Center’s Wendy E. Bookler and Joanna Jarzebowska.

The panelists provided a comprehensive discussion and review of the four template documents that each volunteer might prepare for a client at the clinic including, simple wills, living wills, health care and financial powers of attorney. They discussed the law and the legal requirements that applied to each of the documents to explain how the documents conform to state legal requirements.

Volunteers were guided through the process of gathering information to complete the templates for simple wills. The panelists then reviewed the forms with the volunteers and explained the common drafting clauses to ensure that all volunteers would be prepared to assist clients at the clinic. Next, templates for living wills were discussed. Living wills govern planning for end stage chronic, progressive and other fatal illnesses and medical conditions.

The panelists then turned the discussion to health care and financial power of attorney documentation. A health-care power of attorney provides an agent with the authority to make health care decisions for the client. It takes effect when a physician determines that the client no longer has the capacity to make their own medical decisions. Financial powers of attorney were also covered. They allow for an agent to manage a client’s finances under the same conditions.

A discussion of legal capacity wrapped up the program. Volunteers at the clinic would need to assess a client’s capacity to execute necessary documents. Essentially, the client would need to have the capacity to understand why they were at the clinic, what they were doing by executing the documents and the legal ramifications. Volunteers were encouraged to advise clients to share the documents with families and doctors.

To calm any potential concerns, the panelists said that all volunteers would be paired with someone at the clinic experienced in life-planning for seniors, and that all documentation would be reviewed for accuracy and completeness before submission. There is much work to be done for Philadelphia seniors. Philadelphia has the largest population of any of the ten largest cities in the U.S. with one of five seniors living in poverty.

“Basics of Preparing Life-Planning Documents, A to Z” by Mary LeMieux-Fillery was originally published in the June 2018 issue of Philadelphia Bar Reporter (Vol. 47, No. 6). Reprinted with permission.

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