It's generally not very pleasant to have to think about the end of your life. Many people will put off planning their estate or creating a will for years. That can leave their families, minor children and assets in legal limbo if they unexpectedly pass. However, there's another aspect of estate planning that can put the planner in a dangerous position if not properly addressed.
Whether you currently have perfect health or a family history of medical issues, you need to take the time to draft a living will. Not only will this help you if you experience a serious medical event or traumatic accident, it can also guide your family as well.
What is a living will?
The simplest explanation of a living will is a document that outlines someone's preferences if he or she ends up medically incapacitated for any reason. A car accident that results in a coma or a stroke that leaves you unable to communicate could both be situations in which a living will becomes important for you and your family.
Generally speaking, living wills contain advance directives, the expressions of your preferences and wishes for end-of-life care. Powers of attorney, which authorize people you trust to make decisions on your behalf, are the legal counterpart to living wills. A power of attorney can be broad in scope and apply to all of your affairs or may be of limited scope and/or duration.
Advanced directives inform your family of your preferences
No matter how close you are with your family, they may not understand or remember your personal preferences for medical choices. Don't rely on someone recalling a conversation from a decade or more ago about your stance on life support. Instead, put all of your personal preferences in writing in an advanced directive.
You can address everything from resuscitation and life support to organ donation, thus ensuring that your family members don't have to make those decisions without your input. Instead, they will have a written record of exactly what you want and need if you can't make those decisions for yourself.
Powers of attorney empower those you trust
In the event that you wind up incapacitated and unable to care for yourself, others will need to step in to handle important tasks and decisions for you. A power of attorney assigns that authority to someone you trust, e.g., your best friend, adult child, spouse or a sibling.
In addition to a medical power of attorney authorizing one person to make medical decisions, you may need to give someone else control over financial decisions. A limited financial power of attorney can ensure that expenses like property taxes and utilities are handled when you can't personally attend to them.