How Does Estate Planning Relate to Healthcare?
In Sickness and In Health
Estate planning is about more than money; It is not limited to the property and asset distribution made possible via wills and trusts. If you value your health, it is necessary to take stock of your healthcare options and make your end-of-life decisions known.
Estate planning is also a matter of “if” and “when.” Whether you are in peak physical state or are grappling with a medical condition, the possibility of an unforeseen health emergency remains. By familiarizing yourself with medical estate planning documents and taking the necessary steps to complete these forms, you can be satisfied in knowing that you have adequately prepared for the unexpected.
An advance directive refers to a document in which your healthcare preferences are made clear, including your treatment preferences and your chosen healthcare agent. While you may have planned other aspects of your estate, such as your beneficiary designation and inheritances, an advance directive plays a fundamental role in your estate plan. By having an advance directive in place, you will save your loved ones from the uncertainty of making tough medical decisions on your behalf.
Treatment Preferences (Or, “Living Will”)
A “living will” becomes effective when you are no longer able to speak for yourself or communicate your healthcare decisions. This may be caused by a persistent vegetative state, an end-stage condition, or a terminal condition. In this, you may state which medical treatment you would like to refuse or request medical treatment and procedures you would prefer. Your treatment preferences may include decisions unique to your own perspective, such as blood transfusion or a “Do Not Resuscitate” order.
Choosing a Healthcare Agent
Your healthcare agent selection is included in your advance directive. The healthcare agent does not necessarily need to be a spouse or relative. It may result that your partner is not up to the task or will be occupied handling separate matters in the event of your death or incapacitation.
The decision-making power of your healthcare agent may be general or limited. In cases of general powers, the agent is authorized to make decisions on your behalf that you have not explicitly specified, paying special consideration to what they believe you would have wanted. Limited powers are much less extensive, encompassing only the specific procedures or treatments listed in an advance directive.
Whether their authority is general or limited, you should appoint a trusted, responsible individual as your healthcare agent. Additionally, it is important to have a discussion with this individual prior to naming them in your advance directive document.
Secure Your Last Wishes
The healthcare decisions you make today may not apply several years (or decades) down the line. If you change your mind about end-of-life care or emergency health treatment at any point, it is critical that you update your estate planning documents to reflect this.
As difficult as it may be to acknowledge end-of-life care, it is a necessary step in creating a thorough estate plan. You may also turn this process into a positive experience: The effort you take now will lessen the burden on your family and quell their uncertainty during a trying time.