Five Legal Documents Everyone Should Have

Monday, February 13, 2012
If you are an organized sort - you know the kind - who has all of his, or her, t's crossed and i's dotted then this advice probably won't apply to you. But, for the rest of us, a vast majority, I imagine, this checklist of "Five Legal Documents Everyone Should Have" may be a good reminder.

Will -- If you own any property, have any money in the bank, any life insurance, IRA, 401(k) etc. It is probably a good idea to have a will. It doesn't need to be fancy or long and drawn out but it does need to cover the basics of who you are, what your wishes are and an affidavit from witnesses that you knew what you were doing in preparing the will. As long as you follow guidelines for your state you probably don't even need a lawyer. Estate Planning Basics and Who Needs a Will can offer guidance.

Advance directive -- An advance directive, also often referred to as a medical directive is a legal document that provides instructions on how you would like to be cared for medically should you be unable to express your wishes to the doctor. The American Academy of Family Physicians, as well as other groups provide information on what should be included in an advance directive.

Power of attorney -- A power of attorney gives legal authorization to another person to act on your behalf. This can be used when you are unavailable to make legal decisions for a wide variety of reasons. Power of attorney can be given for a single transaction or can be granted for a broader length of time. The New York State Attorney General's Office offers a question and answer fact sheet on how power of attorney is applied in that state. You should check the laws in your state before making final decisions.

Birth certificate -- A certified copy of the record of your birth is a vital document for many things including obtaining driver's licenses, Social Security cards and passports. If you do not have an original copy, with a seal from the issuing government agency certifying its authenticity, you should obtain a copy and then keep it in a safe place. If you wait until you actually need it you might find that your application (for a passport, driver's license or whatever) is delayed. You usually can track down vital records, including birth certificates, by contacting the appropriate agency in the state where the event occurred.

Passport -- Especially in a time of heightened security a passport proving your national affiliation can be critical to you ability to travel between countries. You may not need the U.S. passport to get into another county but you probably will need it to get back into the United States. Passports can be obtained from the U.S. Passport Agency. Applications and information on obtaining a passport are available from the U.S. State Department. Links also are provided to locations, often post offices, near your hometown where you can apply.

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