A survey conducted by Wells Fargo found that many Americans do not have critical estate planning documents put in place. In fact, the data shows that as many as 40 percent of older people in Pennsylvania may not have the documents they need to protect themselves and loved ones in case of incapacity or death. An estate plan can work to protect one’s wishes for health care and provide protection from financial abuse and exploitation.

Financial abuse of older Americans is a significant issue. In fact, around 20 percent of all people over 65 will face some form of financial exploitation; although, only 10 percent see themselves as facing this risk. By having key estate planning documents in place, seniors can protect themselves from potential abuse before they are incapacitated and have little opportunity to reclaim control of their lives. Experts note that there are four key documents that everyone should have — a will, a financial power of attorney, an advance health care directive and a health care power of attorney.

While a will deals with the distribution of one’s assets after death, the other three documents deal with how decisions will be made for a person in the case of incapacity. An advance health care directive specifies what kind of actions should be taken by medical professionals, and the other documents allow a trusted individual to make financial and health care decisions on the creator’s behalf.

In order for these documents to serve their purpose most effectively, they also must be accessible. Online storage and open discussion can be critical to protecting one’s interests before these documents become necessary to use. An estate planning lawyer can work with clients to prepare these critical documents and plan for the future.

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