If you are like most people, when you think about estate planning you think about a plan that addresses what you would like to happen after you die. Some estate planning tools, such as wills and trusts, do allow this. However, a complete estate plan addresses much more than your after-death wishes.
One of the other purposes of an estate plan is to address what you would like to happen if you are alive but are unable to communicate your wishes. Advance Directives are a group of legal documents that allow you to make known your wishes specifically regarding medical care. Several different legal documents can help you do this, and they generally work well together. However, the two most common advance directives are living wills and medical powers of attorney.
A living will, sometimes called a directive to physicians and family or surrogates, is a document that allows you to put into writing your wishes for or against certain types of medical treatment in specific circumstances. Often, people will use a living will to inform doctors and family members when they would prefer life-sustaining treatment withdrawn or withheld in cases that involve a terminal or irreversible medical condition.
Medical powers of attorney
A medical power of attorney is a document that allows you to select someone to be your alternate decision-maker, called an agent. The agent named in the medical power of attorney will be able to make health care decisions on your behalf when you are unable to make them yourself. Your condition does not need to be terminal or irreversible for your agent to be able to make decisions.
There is no way to predict when you might become unexpectedly injured or ill, rendering you unable to tell your doctors what treatment you want. Including advance directives in your estate plan is one way to be sure your wishes will be known and respected, regardless of what the future holds.