Many of us have heard the terms health care directive, health care proxy and living will. But what do these terms mean and why are they important to estate planning?
Essential terms and definitions
To better understand what is involved in making a will, or other estate planning document, it’s useful to have a firm grasp of the terms. Here are three terms that are important to know:
Health care directive: This is the same as a living will. Other names for this include advance health care directive, personal directive and medical directive.
Living will: This legal document lets those important to you know which medical procedures you want done to you and which you do not want done, should you be unable to decide or express this for yourself. Although we seldom want to talk about it, it is important to plan for all possible contingencies, including incapacitation. A serious accident, coma, dementia or Alzheimer’s or other medical condition could prevent you from being able to speak for yourself. Doctors, nurses and those who give you care must follow the directive you set forth in a living will. Some things to consider when creating your living will are whether you wish to be resuscitated, want blood transfusions, electric shock therapy, ventilation, organ or tissue donation, artificial nutrition or other medical procedures.
Health care proxy: A proxy is the person you designate to make health care decisions for you should you be unable to. This should be a person you trust. It is typically a spouse, but it can be anyone close to you who will be sure to carry out your wishes, even if these wishes conflict with their own beliefs or desires for you. When you appoint a health care proxy, you take the burden off of your family. Your loved ones will not have to argue or guess as to who should make the decisions. Having a living will and a person to follow through on your wishes is the best way to avoid hurt feelings or resentment between those you care about and who care about you.
It’s a sad fact that many of us spend more time planning a wedding, party or vacation than we do creating a will, living will and health care proxy. Why not take the time today? There is, as they say, no time like the present.