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Health care directives: vital parts of estate planning

DoctorEstate planning is sometimes a difficult topic to think about. It makes us not only take an inventory of the fruits of our life's labors, but to also consider our own mortality.

In conjunction with the asset protection and inheritance aspects of testamentary planning, another key component is another difficult topic to ponder: a health care directive, also known as a "living will."

What is a living will?

Living wills are generally misunderstood outside of legal circles. Many people only think of them as "do not resuscitate" orders, but they are actually much more versatile and encompassing than that. Yes, they can dictate terms about end-of-life care and emergency intervention, but they can also do a lot more.

Health care directives appoint decision-makers who will act in our stead should we get to a point where we can no longer handle matters ourselves. People, particularly those of advanced age, are much more likely to become disabled or incapacitated, due to illness or injury, at a given time than they are to pass away, so it is important to have a responsible person named ahead of time.

Planning ahead to express your wishes makes a huge difference in the event your condition takes a turn for the worse. Health care directives can set out:

  • Your wishes for which medical facilities and providers you'd prefer
  • The extent of efforts you want taken on your behalf (i.e., resuscitative or end-of-life care)
  • The person who trust to make medical decisions on your behalf (could be a spouse, child, other relative or long-time friend)
  • Whether you authorize artificial respiration and nutrition in the event you lapse into unconsciousness
  • If you'd prefer to donate organs or tissues when you pass

Health care directives can complement other estate planning components, particularly your will and testament that sets out property disposition, funeral arrangements and other matters. Do you have questions about either drafting a new estate plan or revising an existing one because significant changes have occurred in your life (divorce, death of a spouse, estrangement from a child, for example)? If so, reach out to an experienced local estate planning attorney.

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