An occasional review of fascinating matters in New Jersey law – by Justin Marcus Smith

Are your important legal documents up-to-date?

Thursday 22 April 2010 - Filed under Elder Law + Estate Planning

Older legal documents such as wills, powers-of-attorney, and health care directives (sometimes known as living wills) deserve periodic review and updating. Even though the law changes relatively slowly compared to computer technology and the latest entertainment news, the law does change. You need to check whether you are keeping up with the changes, particularly if your documents are more than ten years old.

For example, the federal government enacted “new” law in 1996 for the purpose of protecting your personal health information. In most situations, doctors and hospitals now need to be much more careful about obtaining your written consent before disclosing information about you, your health, or your medical treatment to others. The disclosure restrictions probably won’t be an issue in an emergency. However, it only makes sense to have up-to-date documents that make it crystal clear to the keeper of your medical records that he or she will not be faulted for disclosing your data when you want them to. Up-to-date documents will give the people interpreting them maximum confidence to act on your behalf — without delay.

The Banking Power-of-Attorney (POA) Act, a law the New Jersey legislature passed in 1991, is another example of a relatively “new” law that may have made documents you signed in the 1980s obsolete quite a while ago. The Banking POA Act establishes a comprehensive range of banking powers. Banks will look for some reference to it in your papers, but older powers-of-attorney probably won’t even mention it. Moreover, if your power-of-attorney is more than 10 years old, you should replace it merely due to its age, especially if your designated agent is not your spouse, your parent, or a descendant of your parent.

In addition, if you have changed banks since you last signed your power-of-attorney, you should consider executing a new one. Look for a lawyer who will involve your bank in the process. Bank legal departments have widely varying procedures and requirements. It is best to have your lawyer confer with your bank so as to maximize the probability the bank will honor the document when it is needed.

Making sure your documents are up-to-date does several good things. First, when your documents make a good impression, you and your documents are more likely to be taken seriously. Second, when the chips are down, you don’t want the people interpreting your documents wondering whether they are still legally valid. So even if you think your personal circumstances have not changed since you last spoke to a lawyer, sometimes the law has. Up-to-date documents will give the people you are depending on to carry out your wishes the confidence they need to proceed on your behalf, just when you need it the most.

The information provided on this site is not meant to be legal advice for your particular situation but merely conveys general information related to legal issues commonly encountered.

2010-04-22  »  admin