While the terms of each of these documents will vary depending on your particular situation, these are the five basic estate plan documents that everyone needs.
Durable Power of Attorney
This is perhaps the most important document, even more so than a Will, because this is the document that will ensure you affairs continue to be managed, by someone you trust, even if you become incapacitated. This document allows someone you name, called your attorney-in-fact, to manage your bank accounts, your real estate, sign things on your behalf and in general perform any act with relation to your property (as opposed to your person) that you could have performed if you were able.
A durable power of attorney will often make a guardianship or conservatorship unnecessary, but there can be a provision in the durable power of attorney to nominate the attorney-in-fact to act as your guardian should the need arise. The attorney-in-fact's power to act on your behalf ends at your death.
A Will appoints an executor to manage your estate after your death, and distributes your property according to your wishes. A Will can also...
...appoint a guardian for your minor children.
Health Care Proxy
A health care proxy is an essential document for every person to sign. It appoints another person to make health care decision for you in the event you are unable to make or communicate your wishes. It is very important that you talk to the person you have appointed so they know what your wishes are. In addition to executing a health care proxy, you should also have a living will.
A living will, also known as a life support statement, is the written form of your wishes that your health care proxy will use when making health care decisions for you. Someone once said that "the health care proxy is the keys to the car, and the living will is the directions." There are many different forms of living wills, just as different people have different wishes. Five Wishes is a company that publishes a booklet to help you convey your wishes, and contains a health care proxy which is valid in Massachusetts. There are also living wills for different religions: Jewish, Catholic, an End of Life Values Statement, or you can write your own based on your particular wishes and beliefs.
The HIPPA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) Authorization is a release which allows your health care proxy or other person you appoint to have access to your medical records. This one page form is separate from your health care proxy because your health care proxy only becomes effective when you are incapacitated, and you may want someone to have access to your medical records prior to that time. This release will allow someone to contact your insurance company or doctor's office on your behalf if you have a question about a bill or a statment, or allow them to discuss your care with your doctor if you are hospitalized.