What does estate planning mean to you? For most of us, estate planning pertains to our final wishes, such as establishing burial arrangements and choosing beneficiaries for our estates. But there’s another important part of estate planning that many people overlook. In the event that you’re very ill and cannot communicate or make certain decisions, what would your wishes be?
When you’re unable to manage your financial affairs or personal health decisions, someone else must step in and take control of those areas of your life. If you haven’t chosen someone to do this for you, the responsibility may fall to the wrong person, or to someone who isn’t aware of your preferences. To be sure your wishes would be honored under any circumstances, it’s critical that you plan ahead for all possible scenarios.
This aspect of estate planning carries the following three options:
Health Care Proxy
You can designate a particular person to make important health care decisions for you, in the event that you are unable to communicate or make the decisions yourself. This person will be in charge of choosing medical facilities, deciding upon surgeries or treatments, and making other decisions regarding your health care. Choose a person who is very familiar with your health history, and who knows you well enough to understand what you might want in very particular circumstances. This can be the same person who handles your financial matters, or a different person if you prefer.
With regard to life-sustaining healthcare (life support), the best way to make sure your wishes will be honored is to draft a living will. This legal document will direct your physician on the types and duration of life support you will accept. Since those who need life support are generally unable to communicate their wishes, the time to make these decisions is now. Just be sure to consult with a qualified attorney to be sure your document is legally airtight.
Durable power of attorney
You also need to designate someone to handle your financial and legal matters. Giving a relative or close friend durable power of attorney protects your estate in the event you are incapacitated. This can be the same person who makes your health care decisions, or a different person.
We don’t generally enjoy thinking such things, but it’s important to remember that anyone can suffer a severe illness or injury at any time. Make sure your spouse and closest family members are aware of your personal preferences with regard to health care and financial matters, and clearly communicate the name of your attorney and location of important legal documents which will protect you and your estate.