Many people think of estate planning as a purely financial endeavor. Of course, readying your assets for transfer to your loved ones after your death is a large part of the exercise. But most people are not in perfect health during the days, months, and often years before their deaths. Oftentimes individuals go through a period of incapacity during which they’re unable to make decisions for themselves. Of course, this is common among people who reach an advanced age, but sometimes younger people who suffer catastrophic illnesses and accidents are also placed in this position.
This is why estate planning attorneys now generally recommend that their clients execute documents called advance health care directives. The two advance directives that are most commonly utilized are the living will and the durable medical power of attorney or health care proxy.
Let’s take a look at the living will first. This is different from the “last will,” which states your wishes with regard to the passing your assets to your heirs. But a living will has nothing to do with money. With a living will, you state your preferences regarding medical procedures that should be used if you become incapacitated and unable to communicate your choices to your doctors. The issue of whether or not you would want to be kept alive via the use of artificial life support systems are typically at the core of living wills.
With a health care proxy or durable medical power of attorney, you select a representative who can make health care decisions on your behalf if you become incapacitated and unable to communicate. This would include situations that were not expressly addressed in the living will document (decisions other than whether to use artificial life support or hydration and nutrition).
If you are interested in learning more about advance health care directives or executing your own, take a moment to contact an experienced estate planning attorney to arrange for a consultation.