Advance directives are legal documents where you designate who should handle your financial and medical affairs and outline your specific wishes with respect thereto should you become incapacitated and unable to manage such affairs in the future. Although you may feel uncomfortable thinking about future incapacity, these documents are important to have in place to ensure that the proper agents are designated, and your wishes are accurately conveyed.
Power of Attorney
A power of attorney provides legal authority to your designated agent to handle your financial affairs in the event you are unable to manage them yourself. A few examples of the powers your agent may be granted in this document are as follows: paying bills, handling real estate transactions, paying taxes, conducting banking transactions, applying for government benefits, making gifts, creating trusts, etc. There are different types of powers of attorney which grant different levels of control to your agent. Therefore, it is very important to make sure that you have the correct type of power of attorney in place based on your needs, desires, and goals.
Health Care Proxy
A health care proxy designates the agent who will have the legal authority to make medical decisions on your behalf if you lose the ability to make decisions yourself. This document can help ensure that you receive the health care you prefer in the event you cannot communicate your wishes. The health care proxy applies whether your incapacity is temporary or permanent. Depending on the authority provided in your health care proxy, your designated health care agent may also be able to access your health records as well.
A living will expresses your wishes with respect to end-of-life decision making when you are still alive but in a “persistent vegetative state” or “end stage”. This document outlines which medical treatments, procedures, and medications you do or do not wish to receive under such circumstances (e.g., ventilators, feeding tubes, etc.). This document goes hand-in-hand with the health care proxy since it is communicating your wishes to your designated agent under your health care proxy.
Do Not Resuscitate Order (“DNR”)
A DNR expresses that you do not wish to be revived or resuscitated if your heart stops beating. This form can be obtained from your physician’s office since the form requires a physician’s signature.
Having some combination of the above advance directives in your estate plan allows you to have peace of mind that your wishes will be carried out by the right people in a time of uncertainty.