The Most Important Document in Your Estate Plan, Continued: Healthcare Planning

Posted on: Sep 10, 2015

Recently our blog featured a post about how your Durable Power of Attorney for Financial Affairs may be the most important document in your estate plan. Click here to read that post and learn more about naming someone to manage your financial affairs.
If the Durable Power of Attorney for Financial Affairs is indeed the most important document in your estate plan, your Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare and Healthcare Directive are a close second. Your Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare will allow someone you name to make healthcare decisions for you if you cannot. Your Healthcare Directive, also known as a Living Will or Advance Directive, allows you to specify your wishes for your end-of-life care.
Who will make decisions about your medical care if you are unable to do so because of an illness, an accident or advanced age? How will your physicians know what actions you would want them to take or avoid? If you do not select someone you trust to handle your affairs, someone else must make those decisions for you.
A Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare will allow you to name an agent (an Attorney-in-Fact or AIF) with whom you will entrust the power to make decisions about your medical care. Generally, this will be your spouse, your adult child or some other close friend or relative. Whoever you choose, your decision maker will need to be trustworthy and reliable, as well as capable of making sure your wishes are followed.
When you execute a Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare, we recommend it be written to be immediately effective. You will make your own decisions and communicate these to medical personnel as long as you are able. When you cannot, your decision maker can step in with immediate legal authority to manage as you would. The alternative is to have the legal authority be “springing,” available after two doctors, and perhaps a court, have determined that you are unable to manage your affairs. This can mean unnecessary delays in making sure your wishes for your care are honored.
In order for your decision maker to understand your wishes, you will also need to create a Healthcare Directive. A healthcare directive is a legal document that explicitly states your wishes regarding the types of medical care you want to receive or not receive if you are ever incapacitated and at the end of your life. Healthcare professionals must often administer medical treatment and life-saving measures if you are incapacitated and there is no legal document to direct them otherwise.
A Healthcare Directive ensures that you have control over any healthcare decisions, even if you are not conscious or otherwise able to provide informed consent. A Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare will ensure that someone you trust will make sure the wishes you have detailed in your Healthcare Directive are fulfilled.
A skilled Elder Law attorney can help you craft these documents so that you are prepared should you ever become incapacitated. Life constantly challenges us with unexpected events, especially as we age, but we can help you prepare for the unexpected. Please call us at (509) 468-0551 for more information about the Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare, Healthcare Directive, and other protections that should be part of your estate plan.