In this article, we are going to address health care related estate planning documents, also called advance directives.
Estate planning is the process of arranging for and preparing the necessary documents to protect your assets and provide for your health care needs when you die or are no longer able to make decisions for yourself. It is something everyone knows they should do, but many of us avoid for various reasons—we don’t like thinking about death, we don’t want to upset loved ones with end-of-life discussions, or we think we have time and put it off until “tomorrow.”
But the truth is there are at least some basic end-of-life documents we should all consider preparing sooner rather than later. Estate planning can provide peace of mind, not only for us but also for our loved ones who will be relieved of the burden of going through probate, possible litigation, or having to try to figure out end-of-life health care decisions on our behalf.
In this article, we are going to address health care related estate planning documents, also called advance directives. Next month, we will look at estate planning documents dealing with financial assets.
Advance directives are legal documents providing instructions for your medical care if you are no longer capable of communicating those wishes. The two most common advance directives are durable power of attorney for health care and living wills.
A durable power of attorney for health care allows you to appoint someone (called a health care proxy) to make health care decisions for you if you are incapacitated. It is important to choose your proxy carefully. At a minimum, it should be someone who knows and will follow through with your wishes.
A living will allows you to indicate your end-of-life health care wishes if you are incapacitated. In it you can indicate what medical treatments you want and which you want to avoid. A durable power of attorney and living will work well together because the power of attorney focuses on who can make decisions on your behalf while the living will directs what you want those decisions to be.
As difficult as it can be to confront end-of-life decisions, having an advance directive provides some assurance that your personal wishes will be honored at a time when you are not able to express them yourself.
For more information on advance directives or other end-of-life planning needs, please visit the Planned Giving and Trust Services website: https://www.willplan.org.
Jennifer Gray-Woods is the lawyer for the Lake Union Conference, as well as the Public Affairs and Religious Liberty director.