If you were to experience a debilitating illness or become incapable of managing your own affairs, who would make your important legal, financial, and health care decisions? On what authority would this individual act? Fortunately, advance directives—legal instructions that express your wishes regarding financial and health care decisions in the event that you become incapacitated—can help deal with such contingencies.
A durable power of attorney grants authority to another person to make legal and financial decisions on your behalf in the event of mental incapacity. The powers granted can be broad or limited in scope. A durable power of attorney can assist you with your personal finances, insurance policies, government benefits, estate plans, retirement plans, and business interests.
A living will generally allows you to state your preferences prior to incompetency regarding the giving or withholding of life-sustaining medical treatment. A health care proxy allows you to appoint an agent to make health care decisions on your behalf in the event of incapacity. These medical decisions are not limited to those regarding artificial life-support.
Advance directives by durable power of attorney, living will, or health care proxy are generally inexpensive and easy to implement. They are essential estate planning tools for all individuals, regardless of age. Without such documents, court intervention, involving a great deal of time, expense, and stress to your family, may be necessary to carry out your legal, financial, and health care wishes at precisely the moment when timeliness and ease of action are needed most.
To learn more about state-specific advance directives, visit Caring Connections, a program of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, at www.caringinfo.org.
Draft advance directives now if you haven't already done so. Both you and your family can benefit greatly if you become seriously ill.