A Will states who you want to receive your money, belongings and property after you die. Unless you state your wishes in a Will, your next of kin will inherit everything you own. (Certain relationships are not legally recognized, so in most states next of kin means legal spouse, children and parents.) A Will can also express a preference for a guardian of your minor children.
There are two kinds of Power of Attorney:
A Living Will is an instruction about what life-sustaining measures you want if you are unconscious with no hope of recovery.
An Advance Medical Directive combines a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care and a Living Will in one document.
How do I put these documents into effect?
You can create valid legal documents by completing the forms and signing them in the presence of two witnesses. The Durable General Power of Attorney should also be signed in the presence of a notary public. Its very important to have an attorney prepare each of the documents for you.
Who should have these documents and where should they be kept?
What should I do if I want to change these documents?
You can change or cancel these documents either by completing new ones, tearing up the old ones or simply informing your bank or doctor that you no longer give your attorney-in-fact authority to act on your behalf. You should also notify anyone else who has copies of changes.
Even though it is difficult to think about serious illness and death, all HIV+ people should make arrangements for the future by completing these documents. For more information, contact the Legal Department of your local AIDS service agency.
Todd Pilcher is a staff attorney at Whitman-Walker Clinic Legal Services in Washington, DC.