Wills, living wills, power of attorney

Wills, living wills and powers of attorney are three important legal documents. They make sure that your wishes for you and your belongings will be followed if you die or become too sick to speak for yourself. Without these documents, family and friends are often left not knowing what to do.

We know it is hard for people to think about these things. But many find that making these decisions not only helps their family and friends know what to do, but they also feel relieved by knowing that their wishes will be followed.

More importantly, you should write down your desires before you become too ill to do so. “Putting it in writing,” as the saying goes, is the best way of ensuring that your end-of-life wishes will be understood and respected when the time comes.

News You Can Use

New Study: Confusion over DNRs, living wills

Click here to read a Philadelphia Inquirer article on the “widespread confusion among medical residents and experienced doctors about how to interpret living wills and DNRs.”

Possible Changes to Inheritance Tax Law 

The Pennsylvania Legislature has an opportunity to eliminate the inequality in the Commonwealth’s inheritance tax policy. When a married person dies, that person’s spouse pays no state inheritance tax. When a domestic partner dies, however, the survivor pays 15% tax on inherited assets. In addition to the emotional hardship, surviving partners face increased household expenses and a large, often unexpected, tax burden – which their married neighbors do not have to pay. In some instances, this means the loss of the survivor’s home. There are various bills pending in Harrisburg, including HB 1828, that would end this inequality. Contact your state legislators for more information or to voice your support.


  Your Life Your Decisions: AIDS Law Project Booklet on End of Life Issues Facing Clients with HIV    

(updated 6/4/13)


Will. A legal document that allows an individual to designate who inherits one’s money, property and personal belongings after death.

Advance Health-Care Directive. This directive is a health-care power of attorney and/or living will.

Health Care Power of Attorney (POA). A Health Care POA allows an individual to name someone else to serve as a health-care agent to make all health-care decisions.

Living Will. A living will is a written statement of the patient’s wishes regarding life-sustaining treatment and other care if  the patient has an end-stage medical condition and is unable to communicate those wishes.

Financial Power of Attorney (POA). A Financial POA allows an individual to name someone else to serve as an agent to make all financial decisions.

Probate. Probate is a process by which a deceased person’s debts are paid and assets distributed. The assets of the estate are used to pay the decedent’s debts and the remaining assets are distributed according to the decedent’s will or, if there is no will, the state laws of intestacy. See, generally, Philadelphia Estate Practitioner Handbook.

Standby Guardianship. The Pennsylvania Standby Guardianship Law allows terminally ill parents to plan for their children’s futures.