Your Impact in the Community: Obtaining Legal Documents

June 12, 2017

Editor’s note: this article has been edited to clarify DC regulations.

A partnership between Legal Counsel for the Elderly (LCE), Iona, and St. Mary’s Court allowed eight residents of the low-income senior building to obtain important legal documents for free without leaving their building.

Typically these documents (including a Power of Attorney, Advance Medical Directive, and Last Will & Testament) can cost hundreds, and sometimes even thousands, of dollars. Additionally, oftentimes attorney assistance is needed. And many of these important documents also need to be notarized in front of two witnesses — a cumbersome and daunting process for many older adults, especially those with accessibility challenges or limited finances.

Doing these documents in advance means you get to choose who will make these decisions for you,” says Rebecca A. Romig, the staff attorney with Legal Counsel for the Elderly.

To obtain these documents, Ms. Rebecca A. Romig, staff attorney with Legal Counsel for the Elderly, met individually with all eight St. Mary’s Court residents to hear their wishes for end-of-life care. She then drew up eight different sets of legal documents tailored to the individual needs of each resident, and provided witnesses and a notary to finalize the documents.

Without your support, our social workers and trusted partners would not have been able to provide these safety-net documents to your older neighbors. Thank you! We hope to offer this service again to other older adults in the future.

Richard Basch (left) made his POA document official with the help of Rebecca Romig, attorney with LCE
Clara Manrique (left) and Lizbeth Hoffman (right) study their POA documents while Martha Ludden, LCE attorney, explains them.
Martha Ludden, volunteer attorney for LCE, Lidovina Manrique, and Clara Manrique discuss their legal documents at St. Mary’s Court

Do you have these legal documents?

A Power of Attorney, Advance Medical Directive, and Last Will and Testament are all very important to obtain while you’re in good health and sound mind. Here’s what they do:

A Power of Attorney (POA) document appoints a specific person chosen in advance to handle someone’s financial matters if they are unable to do so. In Washington, DC POA documents do not have to be drawn up by an attorney, as the statue provides a template. However, a financial power of attorney must be notarized.

The POA is empowered to take over a person’s financial affairs – such as making sure bills are paid on time – when the person can no longer handle his or her own business matters. For older adults with no family, the POA is often a trusted friend who agrees in advance to take on this responsibility. With a POA document, a person is able to choose who will help him or her if they become incapacitated. Without a legally valid POA, a petition often is filed in court to name a Guardian to handle the incapacitated person’s affairs. The Guardian almost always is a lawyer and a stranger appointed by a judge.

An Advance Medical Directive (sometimes called a Living Will, or healthcare/medical power of attorney) is another important document that spells out exactly what sort of medical care a person would wish to have if they were not able to speak for her or himself. If someone went into the emergency room unconscious after a fall, for example, the Advance Medical Directive would tell doctors whether or not the person wanted feeding tubes or life support measures. A healthcare power of attorney does not have to be notarized, but it must be witnessed by two adult witnesses, one of whom cannot be related to the person preparing the document.

A Last Will & Testament specifies a person’s wishes for what should happen to their property after they die. The District of Columbia does not require a will to be prepared by an attorney; however, in some instances using an attorney is strongly advised.

3 thoughts on “Your Impact in the Community: Obtaining Legal Documents”

  1. Questions from a DC resident: —the statement above, about a Last Will & Testimony(?), states that “This document also needs to be drawn up by a lawyer to be legally valid.” Is that a legal requirement in the District of Columbia? —-An earlier statement is that a Power of Attorney must be drawn up by a lawyer and “notarized in front of two witnesses,” (two witnesses and a notary public together at the same time?) Presumably the lawyer drawing the document up must also be identified as part of the document?
    —-And last, In contrast, it appears that an Advance Medical Directive (“Living Will”) requires none of the above, i.e. no lawyer, no witness(es), no notary public?
    Am just trying to clarify the specific requirements in DC for each of the three different documents.

    1. Hi Ana,

      Thank you so much for reading our post. These documents can be very complicated to understand, and they all have different requirements (and the requirements change by state!). We want to verify with our partners at Legal Counsel for the Elderly, but we will follow-up as soon as we have the information. Thank you!

      1. Hi Ana,

        Here’s what the experts at Legal Counsel for the Elderly (LCE) had to share:

        “The District of Columbia does not require a will to be prepared by an attorney; however, in some instances using an attorney is strongly advised. One example would be where real property (home/land) is being bequeathed in the will. Utilizing the services of an attorney can help avoid issues with probating the estate of the testator. DC does not require a will to be notarized; however, it must be witnessed by two (2) non-interested parties. It is important to note that DC does not have a means by which wills can be filed with the court so once the will is prepared it should be stored in such a way that it is safe from fire and water damage such as a safety deposit box or a waterproof/fireproof lockbox or safe. In addition, the personal representative(s) named in the will should know where the will is being stored. The court does not accept copies of the will.

        DC also allows for a “holographic will” which is a last will and testament written in the hand of the testator and signed in the presence of two non-interested adult witnesses.

        A financial power of attorney does not have to be drawn up by an attorney as the statute provides a template. It must be notarized. No witnesses are required. However, when LCE prepares a financial power of attorney, we use two adult witnesses and a notary.

        In addition, the healthcare power of attorney does not have to be prepared by an attorney. The document must be witnessed by two adult witnesses one of whom must not be related to the person preparing the document by blood, marriage or adoption. It does not have to be notarized. But again, when we prepare a healthcare power of attorney at LCE, we notarize the document as well.”

        If you have additional questions, please visit LCE’s website here: http://www.aarp.org/LCE

        Thank you again for your comment!

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