Effective estate planning involves not only directing the distribution of your wealth after death, but also making decisions about your care while alive. Medical technology can extend life, but many clients prefer to focus on the quality of that life. Decisions about the dying process are personal and should be made individually before the opportunity is lost.
When people do not plan for medical crises, family members have to make important health decisions without guidance. If you became ill and are unable to make medical treatment decisions for yourself, or if you became incompetent to participate in those decisions, the burden falls to your family and loved ones. It is for them that you should complete advance directive documents.
An advance directive expresses your health care choices in writing and nominates someone to carry them out. Without a written advance directive, you have no control over the decisions or choices your agent makes. If you do not have an advance directive and become incompetent, a court may appoint a guardian to make your healthcare decisions for yourself. Guardianships can be a very costly process, and can be avoided with proper planning.
A Durable Health Care Power of Attorney is a document through which you name another person to make health care decisions for you if you are unable to make them. The document is “durable” because it is still effective even if you become incapacitated or incompetent.
A Living Will is a document that expresses in writing your directions for your medical care if you are unable to express your wishes yourself. It can direct your physician to withhold or withdraw certain life-sustaining procedures if you are in a terminal condition. However, it can be much more comprehensive, including what you want to happen in various situations.
Advance directives, such as the Living Will and the Durable Health Care Power of Attorney allow you to maintain individual control over your life by directing healthcare decisions made for you in the future.
Advance directives allow you to anticipate medical emergencies and participate in your future care. These documents make health care decisions in advance and create peace of mind for you and your family. The most effective estate planning is accomplished before you need it.