When people think about estate planning, the first thing they think of is making a will. If they go deeper, maybe they also consider setting up a trust for a specific need. But estate plans aren’t just about money. Health care directives aren’t something that comes readily to mind but they can be an important part of estate planning.
What is a health care proxy?
The concept of a health care directive is pretty straightforward – it’s a legal document you execute so that, if you become unable to make medical decisions for yourself, your wishes will be followed regardless. You’re making decisions in advance and directing others to abide by those decisions.
When you execute a health care proxy, you’re appointing an agent to act in your stead. The agent is someone you trust, typically a family member or close friend. If there are specific treatments or procedures you do or do not want to receive, you can relay this information to your proxy. They can then ensure that your wishes are granted when the time comes. Your proxy’s authority arises when a doctor determines you are incapacitated and unable to make decisions for yourself.
What is a living will?
While a health care proxy is directed toward a specific person – your agent – a living will is directed toward everyone. It is a statement of your wishes regarding end-of-life care, detailing how you want to be treated should it come to pass. Where a health care proxy can act anytime you become incapacitated, a living will is only intended for end-of-life situations.
Executing both a living will and designating a health care proxy will complete your estate planning. The living will can act as your specific directions, for those situations you anticipated, and the proxy can take over in those circumstances you did not anticipate.