October is National Estate Planning Awareness Month
It’s a Good Time to be Proactive with Advance Directives
Perhaps you’ve had your will drafted and you now think your affairs are in order. However, to be thorough and well-prepared for the future, it’s important to complete other planning documents as well.
It’s tempting to put off making decisions regarding legal, financial and health care issues when you are healthy, aware and fully functioning. But it’s nearly or completely impossible if you become incapacitated. This is one area where it pays to be proactive, not reactive. Ensure that you have the necessary documents in place now so that — if you are unable to make decisions for yourself in the future — someone you trust can step in and make important decisions on your behalf.
Durable Power of Attorney for Finances
You may consider giving a family member or trusted friend a general durable power of attorney which names that person as your agent or “attorney in fact.” The power will allow the person to make financial decisions on your behalf. A “springing power” may be appropriate, since it springs into existence only after a specified event, such as legal incompetency, occurs. Remember to specifically address certain powers, such as the ability to create trusts. You can also authorize your agent to make decisions regarding any employer-provided benefit plans you may have.
Advance Directives for Health Care
Health care advance directives document your wishes and name an agent for medical care should you become unable to make decisions on your own due to illness or injury. Although advance directives were originally used primarily for end-of-life care, they are now used for multiple aspects of health care — mental, general physical and end-of-life care. The laws regarding advance directives vary from state to state, but generally, if you do not have an advance directive or surrogate decision-maker, medical care providers are obligated to sustain your life using artificial means, if necessary. With today’s medical technology, this not only may mean days and weeks but months and years of artificial life support.
Certain health care advance directives may be completed on your own. Look up your state’s laws to determine the requirements. Once you have your documents prepared, be sure to store them in a safe but accessible place and include the location in the letter of instruction that accompanies your will. It’s important to make copies for anyone involved, such as your loved ones, physicians, clergy, mental health counselors or attorneys. You also have the option to store your health care advance directive documents in an official online advance health care directives registry in your state. Remember that you can change your advance directives at any time, but this requires completing new forms and destroying all previous documents.
Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care
Also known as a health care proxy or medical power of attorney, a durable power of attorney for health care authorizes a trusted person (or “health care agent”) to make health care decisions for you if you can’t make them yourself. Generally, any competent adult, other than your attending physician, can serve in this capacity. This person should also be willing to serve as your power of attorney and be aware of and accept the responsibilities that may arise.
A living will is a directive to physicians stating exactly what kind of care you want or don’t want specifically when it comes to life-sustaining treatment. For example, you can specify your wishes regarding the use of life-support machines if you are critically injured or fall into a vegetative state.
Do Not Resuscitate Order (DNR)
A do not resuscitate order tells medical personnel not to perform CPR if you go into cardiac arrest. There are two types of do not resuscitate orders – one for incidences that occur while you are hospitalized and another for those that occur outside of the hospital.
To understand the myths versus facts and learn key terms regarding health care advance directives, view this helpful document. Or contact your advisor to find out where to begin. He or she can also refer you to a reputable estate planning attorney, if needed.
Getting your affairs in order now may not be the most pleasant task, but once you have your documents in place, you can go about the business of living knowing that your unique and very personal wishes will be carried out should anything happen to you.