Estate Planning Documents for Aging

Advance Health Care Directive

In California, an Advance Health Care Directive spells out your healthcare preferences and names someone to make medical decisions for you in the future. It’s a combination of a living will and a power of attorney for health care.

Living Will

A living will expresses your wishes about future hypothetical medical situations. It’s used by your doctors in instances where you are incapacitated and unable to make decisions for yourself. The more specific your living will, the better. Generally, it addresses your wishes regarding dialysis, breathing machines, a secondary breathing apparatus, resuscitation, and organ donation.

Power of Attorney for Health Care

A living will cannot possibly cover every potential medical scenario. That’s why you also need todesignate an agent to make medical decisions on your behalf when you are unable to. When a medical situation arises that’s not addressed in your living will, the decision falls on them.

Physician’s Order Regarding Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST)

A POLST document informs doctors and emergency medical professionals of your resuscitation wishes in case of an emergency. You only put together a POLST form when you already have an advanced illness. It’s more specific than a living will, which you can write at any point during your life. Doctors and other medical professionals sign your POLST form and all are legally obligated to follow your wishes—this is not the case with a living will.

Financial Power of Attorney (POA)

A financial POA is a legal document where you name the agent who will handle your finances in situations where you are unable to. Typically, the person is a trusted friend or relative. They have a fiduciary responsibility to always act in your best interests, and you specify how much power they hold.

Some of the financial areas that you might grant your financial POA authority over include:

- Property transactions

- Personal property transactions

- Stock and bond transactions

- Commodity and options transactions

- Business operating transactions

- Estate, trust, and other beneficiary transactions

- Retirement plan transactions

It’s up to you to decide how restrictive their powers are. With restrictions, your financial POA might only be able to make decisions about your stocks or your real estate holdings. Without restrictions, they can control every aspect of your finances. Some seniors add time restrictions to their power of attorney form. For example, if you’re due for major surgery with a three month hospital recovery, you can appoint an agent for only those three months. During that time, your trusted friend or family member can pay your bills and other duties you approve. In California, this estate planning document is referred to as the Durable (Financial) Power of Attorney. See an example of this document here.

Living Trust

A living trust in California gives you a way to transfer your property without going through the expense and public nature of probate. The document contains a list of your assets, the respective beneficiaries, and instructions on when and how to distribute the assets. Unlike a will, a living trust can pass on your property while you’re still alive. It all depends on how you set it up. Typically, you are the trustee while you are living, but you don’t have to be. You can name a trustee other than yourself. If you’re the trustee, you’ll need to designate a successor trustee to assume responsibility after you pass away.

Final Thoughts on Estate Planning for Seniors

We use all of these legal documents for seniors to help direct care, ensuring your wishes are carried out every step of the way.

Need help putting everything together?

We can put you in contact with our trusted partners who make estate planning for seniors easy for everyone involved. Just email us at